By Dawna Matthews:
We use soap everyday — not a surprise. What is a surprise, though, is that many of us use something known as
microbeads in our soap. These tiny beads, used as exfoliants, are not only in our soaps but also in other beauty care products such as body wash, masks, and even toothpaste.
We like using exfoliants because they help us to lift off dead skin cells to reveal new skin below. While some products use sugar or walnut shells as exfoliants, the majority of companies use microbeads because they are uniform in shape and gentler on the skin. Sounds great, except for one thing: the little microbeads in these products are most often made of plastic. Yes, that’s right, plastic. Plastic on your face and body!
As we all know, plastics are detrimental to our environment, and end up causing damage to our local waters and oceans. (And I suspect the majority of people don’t want plastics on their face either). Microbeads in our soap, body washes, and other products are pieces of plastic less than 5 millimeters long that are actually designed to be rinsed off and washed down the drain. Estimates are that a single product can contain 300,000 of these polyethylene or polypropylene beads of plastic. Multiply that by more than 100 products containing them, and you have a lot of plastic going down the drain. A recent study indicated that, once they are rinsed down the drain, chemicals can adhere to the tiny beads, which then transport the chemicals to the oceans, lakes and streams, where they are mistaken for fish food. Once eaten, these small pieces of plastic transfer toxins and pesticides into the bodies of the sea life that eats them. They also linger in our eco-systems, spreading to us or other animals. Scientists and environmentalists are not sure how to remove these microbeads from the water because of their size, so these plastics accumulate in the water.
Several manufacturers of these products are stopping the use of plastic microbeads in their products. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson, L’oreal, and Unilever have announced they are phasing out plastic microbeads from their products over the next few years, which is commendable. But so much more needs to be done to ensure our waters and sea creatures aren’t left with nothing but toxins floating around.
A few states are taking further action to halt micro-plastics from entering our waters and fish by initiating legislature to ban the sale of these products. New York is also hoping to ban the manufacture of products containing plastic particles 5mm or smaller in diameter. California and New York are hoping to approve these bills in an effort to stop the flow of this pollution found in the Pacific Ocean and the Great Lakes. It is hoped that, if larger states such as California and New York initiate this ban, other states will follow and save the planet.
Awareness of these microbeads is the first step taken toward acknowledging the detriment of these plastics to our environment. We don’t have a method for removing the plastics at this time, so we have to prevent these toxins from entering our surroundings as much as we can. These state legislative bills could be the next baby step in healing our lakes, streams, oceans, and wildlife from these tiny plastic beads. Benjamin Franklin once said, “ An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe any time we take one little step we can make a huge change.
For more information on microbeads, visit: