Microbeads in cosmetics: how your daily routine could be contributing to microplastics into the sea

Microplastics are incorporated into lots of everyday products, from face cleaners to toothpastes but many consumers are unaware of their presence. A large number of people use face scrubs, body washes and toothpastes, that contain microbeads. Microbeads are used as abrasive scrubbers to enhance the performance of cosmetics.


Could this be our vulnerability to advertising, or simply a lack of knowledge of the contents of products we use in our day-to-day lives?

The use of microplastic in cosmetics is a relatively new idea. Microbeads were only really introduced from the middle of the last decade as a cheaper alternative to natural scrubbers.

So what are the benefits of plastic to our skin? Nothing. According to dermatologists, by scrubbing our skin, most people are doing more harm than good. We are technically scrubbing away the boundary layer of our skin. Even though they are a common form of exfoliation, scrubs are physical irritants, yes you can clean away dead skin cells, but if used to often, or too vigorously, you can make your skin over sensitive.

For more information check out Dermascope:

Back to plastics: Plastics are being used in more and more consumer products and this change in consumer habits is having environmental consequences.

Let’s take an example: my housemate brought an apparently really good body scrub, it contains beads that exfoliate your skin, leaving it shiny, and overtime it is supposed to reduce breakouts. I turned the package over to reveal the contents, many of the chemicals in the scrub would help reduce breakouts, but the scrub, polyethylene beads has other effects.

Microplastic beads abrasively scrub your skin, to open pores and remove dirt build up. BUT they are made of plastic. This begs the question, why would anyone want to scrub their body with plastic? You could just as well use a rope to scrub your back and face!

I digress, after their use microplastics are washed straight down the drain, out of sight and out of mind. But these tiny pieces of plastic are just beginning their journey.

Day to day use of microplastic scrubbers means they are being washed away down our rains at alarming rates, and where do they end up…the ocean of course. Ranging in size from 0.1 to around 0.5 mm, these tiny and buoyant plastics are not filtered out by sewage treatment works, and will make their way, with clean sewage into river systems, and ultimately end up in the oceans.

Once in the sea, they can float in areas where large number of marine organism feed, suggesting there is a high possibility that they are ingested by marine life and are likely to enter the food chain.

Microplastics are everywhere, even found in the great lakes of America. The alarming occurrence of these microscopic beads has led to a campaign to ban the microbead



Initiated by: Plastic Soup Foundation & Stichting De Noordzee, an app has been created that allows the consumer to look up the ingredients of products to find out if it contains plastics. Download the app , select your country and scan the product barcode with a smartphone. The app reads the barcode, and indicates using a traffic light system, whether microplastics are present. You can also check the product list online .

  •  Red: contains microbeads
  • Orange: contains microbeads but manufactures has indicated it will replace or adopt product accordingly
  • Green: free from microplastics

Major cosmetic companies have said they will phase out the use of microplastics, for example LUSH has already remove microplastics from all products. Body shop is also leading the way to be microbead free by the end of 2014.

So here is my suggestion to you, take a look at the links on this page and find out if any of the products you use contain microplastics, you can even use  this app to scan barcodes. Let’s all phase out and stop our use of microplastics, to reduce our impact on the marine environment. Why not use alternatives, like apricot rind, cocoa beads or oatmeal soap?  They smell delicious.


 Published by Amy Lusher


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