How To Wear Glitter The Modern Way, According To Pat McGrath & More Top Makeup Artists

Plus a brief history of the magical, fun-attracting stuff.

Written by Sable Yong

Glitter makeup is a bat signal for joy: It makes your face a party when other makeup can feel oppressively bland. “When you put on glitter, you tend to feel a little magical and extraordinary,” says Euphoria’s head makeup artist Donni Davy. Glitter possesses a power that subverts conventional ideals of beauty, blurs gender lines, and celebrates queerness. In pop culture, it’s always been associated with subculture elites like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Just Dance-era Lady Gaga. Like many beloved icons, it even got cancelled for a hot minute — it turns out, all those shiny particles are maligned as microplastics polluting our environment. (FWIW: “The focus on glitter does seem disproportionate to the actual environmental impact,” says cosmetic chemist Michelle Wong.)

This hasn’t deterred the glitterheads, or the millions of people using #euphoriamakeup as a hashtag on TikTok. In the end, we’re all suckers for shiny stuff. But what exactly is glitter? Where does it come from? And how can we wear it without looking like a full-blown disco ball? Ahead, NYLON deep-dives into the chokehold the sparkly dust has on all of us — and offers some tips on how to wear it, straight from the industry’s top pros.

Glitter’s Accidental Discovery

All that glitters is not gold. More often than not, it’s thousands of tiny bits of die-cut shrapnel made from plastic polymers — more specifically, polyethylene terephthalate, acrylate copolymer, or polymethyl methacrylate. Almost 90 years before Doja Cat attended Haute Couture Week covered head-to-bust in red glitter and 30,000 Swarovski crystals, glitter as we know it was “discovered” somewhat unintentionally by New Jersey machinist Henry F. Ruschmann in the 1930s. He invented a machine that ground up plastic scraps, turning them into ornamental flecks of light-catching debris that were originally used for Christmas decorations (sustainable king of yore).

Doja Cat is seen wearing a full red glittery Look ,long dress and earrings outside Schiaparelli show, during the Paris Fashion Week - Haute Couture Sring Summer 2023 on January 23, 2023 in Paris, France.Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

When it comes to makeup, glitter’s origin story is so steeped in DIY that nailing down a single figure of industry is a bit of a mystery. Studio brands like MAC and Kryolan had loose glitter on deck for various applications, but one pioneer, Jerrod Blandino, is often credited for bringing glitter eyeshadow to the masses. “I would go to the craft store and buy glitter and chop it up into an Estée Lauder eyeshadow or a Chanel blush and I started creating all these sparkly, crazy things,” Blandino says. He eventually launched his brand Too Faced in 1998 with a glitter eyeshadow that spoke to the retro-glam trends of the time. A year later, Hard Candy’s Techno eyeshadow palette containing a similar sparkly black shadow launched, according to makeup artist and beauty sleuth Erin Parsons. Soon, glitter eyeshadow became easily accessible in the makeup aisle, saving everyone from the corneal abrasions just waiting to happen from using craft store glitter.

Glitter Grows Up

Most of us fondly remember Urban Decay’s glitter liners and Bath & Body Works’s Art Stuff scented roll-on body glitter in the late ‘90s and early aughts. But it wasn’t until “festival” became a season in the mid-2010s that glitter makeup got itself together (literally) in mesmerizing, sparkly, performance-worthy formulas like Lemonhead’s Spacepaste, ColourPop’s Glitter Gel, Unicorn Snot Glitter Hair Gel, and IGK’s viral glitter hairsprays.

Eddy Chen/HBO

In 2019, glitter makeup reached a fever pitch as the uncredited star of HBO Max’s Euphoria. “Seeing these looks on a group of relatable TV characters who were not lit for ‘beauty,’ but who were instead portraying real-life scenarios and really living in these makeup looks really helped to redefine this kind of makeup as accessible and wearable,” Davy explains. Partially out of necessity, Davy needed to use really bold and light-catching makeup to be visible in the often shadowy cinematography — but they’re also components of storytelling. “The looks are inspired by the emotional state the characters are in,” she says. “To me, rhinestones help portray the tension between childhood and adolescence, and depending on their placement they can even be reminiscent of tears.” Euphoria’s glitter lust inspired the launch of Half Magic, Davi’s makeup line that offers vivid paints, rhinestone embellishments, and glittery pigments.

Bella Hadid walks the runway during the Atelier Versace Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016-2017 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on July 3, 2016 in Paris, France.Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Haters will say that wearing glitter is juvenile and tacky, reserved for strippers and children. But our post-digital beauty community has proven that glitter is adaptable for any occasion where one wishes to spark joy. The modern pioneer of elevated glitter is makeup legend Pat McGrath, whose 2016 Atelier Versace glitter-encrusted runway lips inspired her Lust 004 Glitter Lip Kit, which had all of us eagerly micro-dosing glitter through absentminded lip-licking for the sake of glamour, dah-ling. Whether you go for a subtle inner-eye gleam or the unapologetic sparkle of crystal-encrusted lips, the modern way to wear glitter is all about expert placement and the right products. We asked glitter gurus Davy, McGrath, and Lottie to share their secrets for upping your glitz game.

Wearing Glitter Makeup The Modern Way

1. Draw the line

“I think the modern way to wear glitter is along your lashline, as eyeliner or on top of eyeliner,” says Davy. “Or, add a generous amount on your inner eye corners.” She uses her brand Half-Magic’s Glitterpill liners, while Lottie swears by Urban Decay Moondust Liners — both can be worn alone or on top of a pencil or liquid liner. “The shade Pyro is also great for an inner corner pop,” Lottie adds.

2. Get loose — but prime first

Davy says loose glitter like the ones from Argentinian brand A2 can deliver an otherworldly finish, but can also be unruly. The pro secret to preventing messy fallout is to avoid putting loose glitter directly on your bare eyelid — instead, use a glitter primer first. Lottie swears by Valentino Beauty Stick With Me Glitter Primer or Nyx Glitter Primer. Apply to the lid, follow with a neutral eyeshadow (that step is optional), then pat on loose glitter with your finger or an eyeshadow brush.

3. Try a “glitter topper”

McGrath, Davy, and Lottie all love to layer a glitter topper — a pressed shimmery pigment that leaves a holographic, light-reflective finish — wherever you want extra shine. “You can wear them on the eyes, on the lips, or on the cheekbones, Cupid’s bow and inner corners as a dazzling highlighter,” says McGrath. Her own line’s ChromaLuxe Artistry Pigments create an intensely foiled, metallic effect, while Davy uses her brand Half Magic’s Glitterpuck Pressed Fairy Dust, which comes in just one shade: a champagne-apricot nude that delivers a wet, slick effect wherever you put it.

4. Go OTT with your lips

If subtle isn’t your thing, go full-glam with a glitter lip. It might not be practical for eating, drinking, or kissing, but when was high glamour ever functional? McGrath’s secret for a longer-lasting glitter lip: always apply a lip balm first, follow with two coats of matte lipstick or clear lip gloss, and then press the loose glitter on top using your finger or a brush. “Apply multiple layers until the glitter is fully packed onto the lips,” she says. “You can use Scotch tape to remove any stubborn flecks.” For a low-maintenance alternative, try her namesake brand’s Lust Gloss shades in iridescent shades like Peach Perversion or Faux Real.