In 2018, the New York Times published an article asking a very simple question. “What is glitter?” The article goes into much depth, giving us a history of the sparkly substance. However, when NYTimes reporter Caity Weaver contacted the two main producers of glitter in the U.S., the farm that originated the product and a company called Glitterex (both of which happen to be based in New Jersey, strangely), the expanse of information available hit a dead stop.

It turns out aluminum metalized polyethylene terephthalate is a heavily-guarded secret. According to the article, when Weaver reached out to Glitterex, president and CEO Babu Shetty “did not want me to visit his glitter factory… that people have no idea of the scientific knowledge required to produce glitter, that Glitterex’s glitter-making technology is some of the most advanced in the world, that people don’t believe how complicated it is, that he would not allow me to see glitter being made, that he would not allow me to hear glitter being made, that I could not even be in the same wing of the building as the room in which glitter was being made under any circumstance, that even Glitterex’s clients are not permitted to see their glitter being made, that he would not reveal the identities of Glitterex’s clients (which include some of the largest multinational corporations in the world; eventually, one did consent to be named: thank you, Revlon, Inc.).” Eerie, huh?

@maxedoutmommy But really, what is it?? #glitterconspiracy #glittergate #glitter #wherestheglitter ♬ original sound - Rae

But what really raised eyebrows was an interaction between Weaver and Glitterex manager Lauren Dyer. Here’s an excerpt from the NYTimes article:

“When I asked Ms. Dyer if she could tell me which industry served as Glitterex’s biggest market, her answer was instant: “No, I absolutely know that I can’t.”

I was taken aback. “But you know what it is?”

“Oh, God, yes,” she said and laughed. “And you would never guess it. Let’s just leave it at that.”

I asked if she could tell me why she couldn’t tell me. “Because they don’t want anyone to know that it’s glitter.”

“If I looked at it, I wouldn’t know it was glitter?”

“No, not really.”

“Would I be able to see the glitter?”

“Oh, you’d be able to see something. But it’s — yeah, I can’t.”

An elusive, but more than that, an unnerving response. What kind of industry is putting glitter in their products that wouldn’t want us to know about it?

A Reddit thread in the subreddit r/UnresolvedMysteries resolved to tackle the mystery back in 2018 after the NYTimes article was published. The comment section sprung forth some quite interesting theories. 

Thanks to an unearthed 2013 AMA with German glitter manufacturer Joe Coeburn, the Reddit community pretty much concluded it was the boating industry; that glitter was a key ingredient in boat paint (and possibly paint for other types of vehicles), and that because the glitter is suspended in liquid, a lot more of it is required to give crafts that beautiful sheen. Redditors u/endless_thread and u/psypoop summed up the consensus here:

Why would this industry need to be so secretive if it’s just paint? And why, in her interview with Weaver, would Ms. Lauren Dyer give such a dismissive and enigmatic answer? What if it isn’t paint, and that was just a bone the glitter industry tossed us to try to satisfy us – to try to distract us long enough to forget about our dreams of finding out what the f*** glitter is for and why, just why, it’s so dang confidential.

It appears conspiracy theorists aren’t sated. Though four years have passed, the glitter mystery is now making a resurgence on TikTok. And that, in part, is due to a supposed global glitter shortage. TikToker @chuppl sums it up nicely here:

@chuppl where did the glitter go #glitter #conspiracy ♬ original sound - jack

TikToker @glasspanther423 is certain it’s “what is used to make the color-shifting inks in United States currency.”

@glasspanther423 #stitch with @chuppl #glitter #glittertok #glitterconspiracy ♬ original sound - The Original Glass Panther

This theory does make a lot of sense. Governments may not want this information getting out to prevent counterfeiting. Moreover, the optics of a nation using glitter to manufacture its currency is pretty laughable. It feels cheap and sounds silly. Here’s another TikToker, @luterac, whose expertise in Dungeons and Dragons, of all things, supports this theory:

@luterac #stitch with @chuppl #Glittergate #Glittershortage #Glitter #Glitterconspiracy #Glitterconspiracytiktok #Conspiracytok #glittershortagesolved ♬ original sound - Luterac

@bentoske breaks down the toothpaste theory here:

@bentoske #stitch with @chuppl gotta check my toothpaste now #glitter #glitterconspiracy ♬ original sound - Aleksander Bentoske

@j_im_ sets in front of us some intriguing facts about stealth paint for military aircraft:

@j_im_ Replying to @shhhimasleep #glitterconspiracy #balkanwar ♬ original sound - Jim Simko, P.E.

And here’s one more theory akin to stealth paint. It’s far more farfetched, but also, invisibility tech sounds dope. 

At the end of the day, we have no way of knowing for certain which industry is hogging all the glitter or for what purpose, or why the populace would be so outraged to find out about it. One can only hope the forbidden knowledge someday extends beyond the minds of the tight-lipped gatekeepers of glitter, Babu Shetty, Lauren Dyer, and whoever else is in on it. Perhaps we’ll all be blessed with such insight. In the meantime, we’re stuck speculating on that stupid sparkly stuff.