The Truth About: Micro Beads In Cosmetics (And The Impact They Have On Our Environment)

Research has shown for many years that beauty products made with tiny microbeads have been damaging water supplies, marine life and the ecological balance of the planet. These tiny beads (used to scrub off dead skin cells, release an active ingredient or simply used for aesthetic reasons) are still used in a huge number of cosmetic products, despite outrage from environmental activists. You may spot them in your shower gel, toothpaste, cleanser or body scrub and wash them away without a second thought – but the truth is they’re incredibly damaging to our fishy friends. So why are these tiny fragrments that look harmeless enough having such a negative impact, and what can we do about it?

When we wash away these tiny beads in our bathrooms, they enter the water supply. It’s impossible to filter them out using current sewage systems (due to their tiny size,) meaning they end up in our rivers, lakes and seas. A report by the State University of New York found “anywhere from 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads per square mile in the Great Lakes of Michigan, the world’s largest source of freshwater,” proving how much of a large problem it’s become. 5Gyres, an organization aimed at reducing plastic ocean pollution worldwide, estimate that one single product (such as a face wash) can contain up to 360,000 microbeads. Wowzer.

Beat the Microbead, an international campaign to ban the use of these damaging ingredients, believe that marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microbeads. They claim that over 663 different species are currently negatively impacted by marine debris, with 11% of cases specifically related to the ingestion of
microplastics. This means marine life (as well as birds) are gobbling up these little beads thinking they’re a tasty dinner, only to find the plastic is rather harsh on the tummy – inevitably this stifles the marine life and is causing huge problems.

These non-biodegradable microbeads are also acting as a magnet for other dangerous pollutants that threaten the health of fish, birds and other wildlife. They can act like tiny sponges, absorbing several other dangerous chemicals (including pesticides and flame retardants,) becoming pure poison in the process. Not only is this having a huge negative impact on our seas and the fish that live in these environments, but as fish are a fundamental part of the human food chain the damaging microbeads could also potentially end up on our plates. Put simply, once microbeads enter the marine environment they’re impossible to remove; we need to stop their inclusion in beauty products now.

Although major cosmetic companies including Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Procter & Gamble have pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in favor of natural alternatives, these changes could take up to 2018 to actually be implemented. It’s not illegal for manufacturers to use microbeads in Europe, although the states of New York and California have recently passed laws to prevent the sale of products which contain them. Activists have called for voluntary bans, but right now the industry is being slow to respond; it seems they have more important business to tackle first.

So as a consumer, what can you do? 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. It’s worth checking the ingredient list to see if any of these feature, as well as checking the brand’s policy on microbeads – often found on their website. Beat The Microbead also have their own app, which allow consumers to scan the barcode of a product and find out if it contains microbeads; more importantly, it also provides information on the commitment the brand has made and when they’re expected to phase out the use. Signing up to petitions, supporting charities that are fighting the ban and discussing the issue openly will also help…

But most importantly, vote with your wallet.
Just don’t buy products that will cause harm to our precious marine life.

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  1. sampan_27
    July 29, 2015 / 12:26 pm

    I have recently stopped using all microbead products, because of the environmental impact. Like, the plactun micro fishy eat it, then it starts the cicle of if another fish eats it, it's posioness, or even that micro fishy could dye out and there would be nothing for the rest of the sea bead to feed on, meaning our favourite fish then die out. It's all a chain reaction!So, as lovely as the beads are, into our pores, my thoughts are that the sea and water life is far too precious to let them eat this poisoness plastic.Hopefully the word will spread and out goes the microbead products!However, my only question is, if I throw away these products, will they end up poisioning elsewhere, or is there a bin that companies could set up? For example; We could pop along to a counter, and the company can dispose of the product in a non-environmentally harming way? Just a thought anyhow, I think the beauty companies could help in that way :)Excellent post as always touching on the current topics! (I was just posting a similar one ha!)

  2. Philippa
    July 29, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    I stopped buying products with microbeads in a while ago, it's so unnecessary when there are plenty of other natural alternatives, like sugar and salt, that can be used instead!Philippa – ByPhilippa

  3. Courtney Williamson
    July 29, 2015 / 12:56 pm

    I've been sworn off microbeads this year and I'm glad I have. I love the idea of the app aswell!– // x

  4. Elena Doinoff
    July 29, 2015 / 6:29 pm

    Erm, water treatment plants deal with much smaller particles, why would they miss the scrubbing particles which are comparatively big? Something here's not right… I know not all water is being processed but still a large part is (especially in developped countries where people use such things as scrubs)…

  5. Kaci Soderstrom
    July 29, 2015 / 7:03 pm

    I hope the body scrubs I use from treacle moon are okay

  6. Lucy L.
    July 30, 2015 / 6:24 am

    Correupt corporations is nothing new. Polyethylene is the most common plastic in the world. The petroleum-basred plastic industry has a huge surplus of waste/byproducts and they've found a way to put it in absolutely everything. The more ways they can prove the usefulness of it, the bigger the industry gets. What's more, they are cheap. So is anyone surprised that they found its way into our cosmetics?Companies very often tell you that you need to use microbeads because of their perfectly spherical shape doesn't cause microtears to the skin. This is just more industry PR nonsense to get us to part with our pounds. Rubbing plastic on your face is never a good idea. Stick to ground kernals, milled petals, natural and biodegradable materials. Your face and your waters will thank you for it.

  7. Allie Perry
    July 30, 2015 / 10:59 am

    I had no idea at all about this, I'm glad I don't use scrubs

  8. Becky Smith
    August 3, 2015 / 12:35 am

    I've been thinking about this a lot recently and have been meaning to ask online what ingredients to look out for on products. I looked at the Beat the microbead app but it has pretty poor reviews and apparently doesn't work very well so instead I've made a memo on my phone with the ingredients you've given so I can check products. I can't believe we're still using these things when there are other natural ingredients that can be used. I love the sea and the life that it contains and I want to help protect it. I'm also a big fish eater, I'll usually chose fish over meat and I certainly don't want to be eating these things because the fish I'm eating have eaten them. Thank you for this post x Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

  9. Emily M
    August 3, 2015 / 1:19 pm

    This was such an interesting post to read – I never even knew that microbeads were harmful at all, it never crossed my mind! I'll definitely be looking out for those ingredients you mentioned now before buying any new products! thanks for sharing Hayley! xemily x ❤ | emilyloula

  10. Phoebe Parke
    August 4, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    Hi Hayley, what a great post, really informative. I've just downloaded the Beat the Microbead app! Phoebe x

  11. Petra Kravos
    August 5, 2015 / 5:20 pm

    This is such a great article! While I knew microbeads were bad, I didn't know exactly why and you explained it perfectly. I think many people are not aware of this so I will make sure I share this on my Twitter to spread the awareness.

  12. Be a shade greener
    August 7, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    I wrote a post on this a while back and it's great to see that someone with so many followers and a more mainstream audience is spreading awareness too. Thanks!

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