Microbeads: Alternatives and Activism

Microbeads are found in many common products on the market that claim to exfoliate skin. These beads are so common that they’re starting to end up in our oceans, lakes, streams, food, and even our blood.

Thankfully, the issue of microbeads is gaining momentum in the mainstream media, as the United States recently banned the use of microbeades via executive order. However, we have a way to go before harmful microbeads are removed from our personal care products in larger countries that make a huge impact on our oceans and environment. What will this mean for the future debate of these substances in our products?

What’s with Microbeads?

Microbeads are found in many common products on the market that claim to exfoliate skin. On a side note, exfoliate means, according to Google, “ to come apart or be shed from a surface in scales or layers.” It basically acts as sandpaper on your skin. These beads are becoming so common that they’re starting to end up in our oceans, lakes, streams, food, and even our blood.

“The microbeads used in personal care products are mainly made of polyethylene (PE), but can be also be made of polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. Where products are washed down the drain after use, microbeads flow through sewer systems around the world before making their way into rivers and canals and ultimately, straight into the seas and oceans, where they contribute to the plastic soup. Typically, microplastics are defined as: plastic pieces or fibres measuring less than 5 mm. The microbeads found in personal care products are almost always smaller than 1 mm.[i]”

Plastics in our water are known to cause adverse health effects, especially for people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and other skin sensitivities and conditions. However, even those without sensitivities are at risk. “Larger pieces of plastic break down into smaller pieces and do not biodegrade, the amount of microplastics is accumulating.[ii]” This plastic matter does not go away, it collects in the waterways, and eventually end up in our own bodies.

It’s not just the beads and microplastics that we have to deal with. Plastics, with their carbon-chain chemical structure, tend to pick up and bond with other chemicals around them. While the plastic itself can be harmful, the chemicals it can carry include many harsh compounds and even heavy metals. When these plastics get back to our water and our bodies, they bring a slew of harsh chemicals with them.

Thankfully, there is a campaign online that has been picking up speed on the issue of banning microbeads. The International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics has created a website and petition to ask legislators to ban microbeads in products.

They have also released a short video on the subject:

This video was very well done and hopefully will encourage activists to help change their political landscape for the sake of our health. However, they forgot to mention a very important detail.

What Microbeads do to Your Skin

In a previous article on Lotion Product Alternatives, I discussed how certain cosmetic products actually make your skin worse off than before. These products claim to “hydrate” and “rejuvenate” your skin, when in the long run, they do the exact opposite.

Microbeads are Abrasive to the Skin

Cosmetic and care products use microbeads to keep your skin young and smooth. How does this work? Well, picture thousands of tiny, hard plastic beads rubbing against your skin exactly like sandpaper until all the dead, and some living, cells have been scraped off. Disgusting, right?

This is huge in cosmetic advertisements when their product supposedly washes away all the daily grime and other harmful products. THEY ADVERTIZE THIS!

Just think about it, putting makeup on every day (that is known to  dry out your skin on purpose) and washing it off with sandpaper… er “rejuvenating face lotion.” Your skin is going to deteriorate fast-leaving raw, vulnerable skin that can be prone to acne, pimples, eczema, and other skin problems.

Products that advertise and use microbeads in their mix also tend to have other harsh chemicals that most people can’t even pronounce. True natural products with genuine lack of petrochemicals are the absolute best for your skin, health, and planet.


[i] (Plastic Soup Foundation & Stichting De Noordzee Contributors: Fauna & Flora International, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment, United Nations Environment Programme, The Bodyshop Foundation, Neal’s Yard Remedies 2015)

[ii] (Thompson 2004)

Sources

  • Plastic Soup Foundation & Stichting De Noordzee Contributors: Fauna & Flora International, Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment, United Nations Environment Programme, The Bodyshop Foundation, Neal’s Yard Remedies. Science: Beat the Microbead. http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/science.
  • Thompson, R.C. “Lost at Sea: Where is all the Plastic?” Science, May 2004.
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