If you’ve ever used exfoliating beauty products like body washes and facial scrubs, you’ve probably felt the sensation of tiny solid particles rubbing against your skin. That gritty texture is caused by an additive called microbeads. Microbeads are very small particles five millimeters or less in size. They do the work of really getting down into your pores to remove dirt, excess oil, and dead skin cells. But if you think microbeads are the secret to smooth and glowing skin, you may want to think again.
Microbeads promise positive effects, with many companies touting them as a “magic formula.” However, they’re actually known as a pollutant to marine life and are doing the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with your skin.
So, is it time to stop using products that contain microbeads? Read on to find out.
What Are Microbeads?
Microbeads are small, spherical plastic beads made of polyethylene—the same compound used to make plastic bags—as well as petrochemicals such as polypropylene and polystyrene. As you may already know, the accumulation of plastic waste is gradually destroying wildlife and the ecosystem because they do not easily break down. Microbeads won’t evaporate or be dissolve after applying them to your face, but instead, they enter the water supply as they are washed down the drain every time you use products that contain them. Thus, we are actually indirectly contributing to the environmental damage while trying to smoothen our skin.
Microbeads can be found in facial scrubs, facial cleansers, body scrubs, soaps, toothpastes, shampoos, and sunscreens. They are also found in certain household products such as cleaning agents and detergents. A regular bottle of facial wash contains around 100,000 microbead particles, while facial cleansers may each carry up to 300,000 beads per tube.
How Advertisements Introduce Them
Over the last several years, there has been a growing concern over the environmental impact of microplastics. Yet, many companies still talk positively about microbeads by introducing their “benefits,” leaving a good impression on customers. Some ads even claim that these tiny particles exfoliate and clean deep down into pores, leaving skin smooth and clear. Others describe microbeads as a restorative agent for the daily “revival” of the skin.
Even hair removal creams and dishwashing detergents highlight microbeads as an active ingredient and are marketed as the best solution for your needs. According to a campaign sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, brands that use microbeads in their products include:
- Johnson & Johnson
- Procter & Gamble
- Estée Lauder
Why Microbeads Are Bad
Science stands on a different perspective when it comes to microbeads. Studies have shown that these tiny particles are harmful to the environment and your health.
- Environmental Impact
Microbeads are rinsed off and flushed down the drainage system along with personal care products like creams, cleansers, foams, and scrubs. Because they are made of plastic, they are not broken down by wastewater treatment facilities and end up accumulating in the environment. According to the American Chemical Society, more than eight trillion microbeads are dumped into the water systems in the United States every day.
Because they are made of plastic, microbeads are non-biodegradable and take a long time before they break down. Their small size makes it almost impossible to filter them out of the water systems and from the environment.
Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization, has labeled microbeads as toxic time bombs. This is because once they end up in our seas, fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic animals ingest them as food and, thus, poison their bodies. Human consumption of these fish and other marine animals may lead to us ingesting microplastics as well.
- Health Impacts
Any product that contains plastic can pose health risks especially when you ingest it or apply it directly on your skin. While most beauty products are applied externally, their components still enter the body through dermal absorption. Moreover, some microbead-containing products are applied to the face near the eyes and may injure the cornea. The tiny pellets can even get stuck under the eyelids and scratch the eyeballs.
Continued use of microbead-laden products can also lead to other infections due to the beads causing scarring, leaving your skin with abrasions. Even micro scarring can make your skin vulnerable to bacterial attacks and other pollutants, further stressing out your skin and speeding up the signs of aging.
Toothpastes filled with microplastics may also cause gingivitis and periodontal diseases. he abrasiveness of these particles may wear away your teeth.
The last thing that you want is to have plastic inside your body. Even some medicines now use microbeads as part of their ingredients for “easier consumption.” Although they can be quickly ingested, they can harm the human body in the process.
These findings have led to many companies reformulating their products. These include Unilever, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, The Body Shop, Procter & Gamble, and Beiersdorf (the company behind the Nivea brand).
Furthermore, governments around the world have created policies to prohibit microbeads in different products. In 2016, former United States president Barack Obama signed a bill that banned the use of these particles in the country. Australia has also implemented a rule for supermarkets to remove microbead-filled products from their shelves. The United Kingdom government will also ban these ingredients by the end of 2017 as well as Canada by mid-2018.
There are exfoliant alternatives that are not only organic but are also found in nature. Scrub your face instead with apricot seeds or rice.
- A good natural exfoliator may already be sitting in your kitchen, such as oatmeal, ground nut shells, and sea salt.
- If none of these are available, use a soft face cloth to eliminate dead skin cells and deep seated dirt.
- One of the best ways to protect yourself is to learn what’s safe and what’s harmful and to buy facial scrubs and cleansers only from companies that you trust.