Why Banning Microbeads from Beauty Products Is a Big Deal

A major – and much needed – policy change is about to take effect in the health and beauty industry. Starting in July, companies will no longer be allowed to manufacture products containing microbeads… and it’s about time.

The next time you wash your face or jump in the shower, take a close look at your favorite scrub or skin polish. Is it packed with little beads? Those are tiny pieces of plastic. They give skin care products a gritty texture which helps to slough off dead skin cells and clear dirt from pores. But, microbeads do a lot more harm than good, they’re bad for the environment and even worse for your health.

Read on to learn more about the impact of microbeads, and what we can do to keep ourselves, and the environment, safe and healthy.

Microplastic Contamination

According the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), plastic is the most prevalent type of marine debris – and much of it is microbeads. So, where does it all come from?

In 2015, Dr. Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, partnered with leading environmental scientists to study the ecological impact of microbeads. The study estimates 808 trillion microbeads from personal care products are washed down American drains daily. Wastewater treatment facilities aren’t equipped to filter out such minute particles, so nearly eight trillion are swept right into oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The Effects on Ecology and Your Health

Microbeads are synthetic polymers and they can attract and absorb other environmental contaminants like the now-banned pesticide DDT and industrial chemicals like PCBs. They’re a major source of marine debris, and they contaminate the food supply when aquatic animals eat the tiny pieces of plastic. Eventually, these plastic beads work their way up the food chain, and have been found in fish routinely consumed by humans. That’s right, your fish tacos, salmon fillet or spicy tuna roll might come with a side of microbeads. And cellular necrosis, inflammation and tissue laceration are just a few of the negative health effects of eating contaminated seafood.

Prevention Is Key

The sheer number of microbeads pouring into our waterways, coupled with the miniscule size of the contaminates, makes a large-scale cleanup unlikely. Fortunately, Dr. Rochman’s study along with advocacy from organizations like 5 Gyres helped to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which bans the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics containing microbeads starting July 2017. Unfortunately, those products will still be on store shelves until January 2018.

So, for now, the best way to reduce ongoing microbead pollution is by making a switch to natural, biodegradable alternatives. Natural scrubs contain sugar and/or apricot kernels as a main exfoliating agent. Gentle cleansers use non-abrasive jojoba beads. Even a mask or serum containing vitamin C can slough off dead cells. Any of these options are easier on skin than harsh microbead-infused cleansers, and most importantly, they’re safer for the environment and your long-term health.