What are Microbeads? And how are they connected to the beauty industry? Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many very well known conventional beauty and skin care products – by many household brands. They are rife on supermarket shelves, and mainly found in exfoliating face and body scrubs, glittery make-up, toothpaste, shower gel, and more. Sadly, they are too small to be filtered out by our sewer systems. Microbeads run straight down our drains, and into our waterways, contributing to the plastic soup swirling around the world’s oceans.
Do you know that microbead plastics, barely visible to the naked eye, also absorb toxic chemicals as if they were little magnets? (1) Yes. Trillions of polluted plastic microbead particles (an estimated 300 billion in the Arctic Ocean alone), will be ingested by marine life and eventually make their way up the food chain and onto your dinner table. This has been going on, silently and un-checked, since the 90’s.
Today, we know due to scientific evidence, that there are more than 60 different microplastic ingredients currently used in cosmetics. You will find microplastic ingredients not only in scrubs, but also in products like lipstick, eyeliner, and sunscreen (2).
The UK government has recognized that microplastics have taken a devastating toll on the environment, and recently banned the manufacture of rinse-off beauty and skin care products containing micropbeads (3).
However, we are not quite jumping for joy just yet; this isn’t a complete ban on microbeads in skin care products. Following resistance from Big Beauty, leave-on formulas (sunscreen and makeup) will still be allowed to contain tiny bits of plastic. According to The Telegraph, big brands claim they would need to reformulate 90% of their skin care products, which would be “difficult” and “expensive.” (4)
Thankfully, microbeads are completely unnecessary. You can use your buying power to support ethical, eco-conscious businesses that sell products made from natural, organic ingredients instead. You can even knock-up your own DIY skin care products, using ingredients you probably have in the pantry.
Natural Microbead Alternatives
- Raw Honey (natural enzymes)
- Natural Clays
- Baking Soda
- Organic Oatmeal
- Organic Sugar (natural glycolic acid)
- Natural Sea Salt
- Ground Fruit Kernels
Not only are natural exfoliants readily available and healthier for the planet, they do a better job. Natural exfoliants tend to have more texture (they’re not perfect, plastic spheres), so they naturally have more ‘scrubbiness’. This begs the question:
“Why are we using microbeads in the first place?”
I’m glad you asked. Big Beauty uses microbeads in their formulations because they are fast and cheap to produce. Try this fast, cheap (and far superior) DIY Brown Sugar Body Scrub instead!
The UK-wide ban on microbeads will go into effect later in 2018, and hopefully other countries will follow suit immediately. Unfortunately, you will continue to see microbeads in many leave-on beauty and skin care products. Microbeads are not biodegradable, so once they enter our water systems, they are impossible to remove. There is still a lot of work to do if we want our water to be plastic free.
How many products do you think you have at home with microbeads in them? Once we are aware of all of the brands that are still using them – we can make a conscious decision and try to avoid the brands that make products that contain these beads.
We’d love to know what products you’ve spotted that contain these beads! Please post your answers in the blog post so we can keep track of the brands.
EBD Blogger for Natural Beauty & Healthy Living
Melissa is a clean beauty formulation expert, eco-activist, and founder of Awake Organics; a natural, aromatherapy-based skin care range and Health & Wellness Platform. She has a passion for women’s health, mental health, and the health of the planet, and Melissa’s writing often explores the link between these areas. The Awake Organics platform provides support for women struggling with the stress of modern life, and creates awareness around the link between exposure to harmful chemicals and pollution, and ill-health.
Find out more at www.awakeorganics.co.uk