Glitter: It’s everywhere, it’s sparkly and it’s one of the internet’s favorite conspiracy theories.
Since 2018, when the New York Times wrote about the secretive nature surrounding who is snatching up the most glitter – a tightly held secret as the mystery buyers allegedly “don’t want anyone to know that it’s glitter,” – the internet has whipped itself into a frenzy attempting to solve this mystery.
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From toothpaste to military defenses, here are four of the internet’s theories on where all the glitter is going.
Boat and Car Paint:
The most prevalent theory surrounding the glitter mystery is an obvious culprit. Vehicle paint, a notion backed up by Joe Coburn, who formerly worked at his family’s glitter company.
“In my mind it's automotive paint,” he told Endless Thread’s Ben Brock Johnson in 2019.
“This could be vehicle paint for planes or boats or whatever, but in my mind, it has to be glitter that sits in a liquid medium,” he elaborated, noting that it “requires a lot more glitter.”
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“These glitter particles are so thin and the desired effect is not to have particles spread out where you see just paint and then just glitter,” Coburn continued. “The idea is that you see nothing but glitter. If there is space in between then the effect is not as brilliant. There's a reason that cars in the sun look really nice.”
Have you ever gone to brush your teeth and felt there was something … missing? Perhaps the sweet, sweet taste of toxic microplastics? Fortunately for your and your bizarre cravings, you may be in luck – some armchair investigators have speculated toothpaste as the secret to the glitter conspiracy.
A theory largely tied to its controversial nature – after all, who would want to buy an oral product knowingly pumped full of shining microplastics? – several have cited toothpaste’s ingredients as a smoking gun.
“I think the answer is toothpaste,” wrote u/SoloZinger on a Reddit thread, explaining how they “looked at the ingredients” on their toothpaste to find that “it contained alumina and titanium dioxide.”
Yet u/SoloZinger isn’t wrong. Though big toothpaste has remained tight-lipped on whether or not they are behind the glitter conspiracy, they have acknowledged the use of plastics in their products in the past, namely, largely-discontinued products with microbeads.
“The colored polyethylene (PE) specks used in our oral care products are safe, FDA-approved food additives,” Crest’s parent company Procter & Gamble told Snopes back in 2014, noting these additives are also “used in chewing gums and are commonly used in toothpastes.”
“P&G and other toothpaste manufacturers use limited amounts of small colored polyethylene specs in some toothpastes,” they elaborated.
Toothpaste isn’t the only theory tapping science and stealth – several glitter sleuths have suspected the copious amounts of glitter are bought by none other than our military, as Redditor u/mark48torpedo theorized in the aforementioned glitter thread.
“I'm pretty sure it's actually stealth coatings (i.e. paint) for stealth fighters like the F-22 and F-35, which are now being produced in relatively large quantities for the US military,” they explained, before detailing how glitter’s metal components and relative cost-effectiveness could potentially serve as a solution to several common woes in creating stealth aircraft.
“Radar absorbent materials, such as those used on stealth aircraft, typically consist of a mixture of finely ground metals (i.e. glitter!) and polymer,” they wrote, noting these materials need to be “fairly conductive” but not “too conductive.” “Finely ground metals mixed with polymer are exactly what you want.”
“These coatings will be quite thick and contain a large fraction of metal, which will consume huge amounts of glitter compared to most applications, which use only a tiny amount of glitter. For example, in the article they state that ‘The minimum order size Glitterex will accept is ten pounds, enough to supply sparkle to half a million bottles of nail polish by Mr. Shetty’s estimation.'"
And it seems u/mark48torpedo may just be onto something.
Enter Chaff, a very sparkly radar countermeasure. Largely used by military airplanes and ships, chaff consists of a vessel spewing millions of small fibers coated in metals like aluminum or zinc in order to confuse radars on their locations. As of 2018, the Pentagon cited Esterline Defense Technologies as their sole Chaff contractor, per Slate, yet the conspiracy, as all good conspiracies do, has managed to live on.
Though it may fill beaches, dunes and every single crevice on our bodies after a day at the seaside, the world is in the midst of a major sand shortage, one that could endanger the production of glass, silicon and concrete, per Popular Mechanics.
“To achieve sustainable development, we need to drastically change the way we produce, build and consume products, infrastructures, and services,” the United Nations Environment Programme’s Pascal Peduzzi said of the group’s 2022 report on the shortage.
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“Our sand resources are not infinite, and we need to use them wisely. If we can get a grip on how to manage the most extracted solid material in the world, we can avert a crisis and move toward a circular economy.”
With sand reserves dwindling, so much so that we’re “stripping riverbeds bare,” “stripping beaches bare” and are “tearing up forests and farmland to get at the sand,” as freelance reporter Vince Beiser told NPR back in 2017, some glitter conspiracy theorists suspect that glitter may be keeping our beaches shining in these trying times.
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“Sand Mafia. Glittering white sand on resort beaches and tourism hotspots” speculated Redditor u/hemanshi95 explained in a post shared to r/ConspiracyTheories shared back in 2022.
“They are taking 1000s of pounds of fine silver glitter and dumping it into their resort beaches to make them look expensive. We can see SOMETHING, but we can’t tell it’s glitter,” they elaborated, referencing Dyer,’s sentiments about whether consumers would recognize glitter as glitter. “Imagine the outrage when we found out some rich asshats poured tons of microplastics right by the ocean just for looks.”
So in conclusion, we still don't who's buying all the glitter (it's the military) at this point, we'd rather not know.