If you follow green beauty blogs or are a supporter of natural/organic products, the chances are you will have already heard about the dangers associated with microbeads. Manufacturers use them in exfoliating products because they are less abrasive (and no doubt a lot cheaper) than natural, biodegradable alternatives. But these tiny plastic balls are proving environmentally problematic: after being washed down our drains, they slip through waste-treatment systems unhindered and wend their merry way directly into our seas and lakes. There, they add to the growing amount of microplastics polluting our waters, absorbing waterborne contaminants and, because they look like tasty little eggs, being eaten by fish, turtles and other marine animals. Do the chemicals on these plastic beads get absorbed into the bloodstream and tissue of the animals that eat them? And does this have implications for seafood-eating humans? Scientists are investigating, but we don’t yet have the answers.
Some manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, P&G and The Body Shop, have agreed to stop using microbeads in their products – but apparently they need several years to find a replacement ingredient. I’m not going to attempt to calculate how many microbeads could potentially enter our oceans while manufacturers take their time coming up with an alternative – I’m not sure my maths is up to it. But environmental group 5gyres.org estimates that a single tube of facial cleanser can contain 350,000 microbeads, so it’s a lot.
If you feel strongly about this issue, stop using your marine-life-polluting products – and don’t forget to let the manufacturer know that you’ve done so. Some products, like the one above from Clarins, proudly declare the presence of microbeads; with others, it’s not so obvious, so check the ingredients list for ‘polyethylene’. There’s even a free app called ‘Beat The Microbead’, which enables you to scan product barcodes to find out if they contain polyethylene.
And, of course, there are already lots of natural alternatives out there, including our very own range of facial and body scrubs, which are 100% natural. What’s more, the components are packaged separately, allowing you to mix a spa-standard fresh scrub in your own home. What’s not to like?!
For more information, follow and support the campaigns run by 5 Gyres (5gyres.org, @5gyres) and Plastic Soup (plasticsoupfoundation.org, @plasticsoupfoun).