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  • Writer's pictureChin Ling

Is Your Facial Scrub Polluting Our Seas

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

In June 2014, Illinois became the first state in US to ban the manufacture and use of microbeads in personal care products.

The tiny plastic microbeads do not degrade and are so small they are not filtered out through waste water treatment plants. Instead they make their way into seas and rivers and have been found in the Great Lakes in US. Plastics come from oil and the smaller the beads, the greater the surface area to volume ratio. Therefore, these attract and absorb toxic chemicals in the water and, because they look like food, they are eaten by fish and marine wildlife. They cause damage to the animals as they are ingested and can transfer their chemicals to them. Eventually, these wildlife end up in our food chain.

In May 2015, the Californinan State Assembly banned the plastic microbeads in personal care products sold across California. Assemblymember Richard Bloom said: “Toxic microbeads are accumulating in our rivers, lakes and oceans at alarmingly high levels.” And according to scientists estimate that 471 million plastic microbeads are washed into San Francisco Bay every day.

The ruling AD 888 which is the most stringent yet, signed in California October 2015 does not allow even new types of “bio-degradable” plastic microbeads in products.

So where are these plastic microbeads found? In facial scrubs, body exfoliants, shower gels, some soaps and toothpastes.

What are the alternatives? an organisation devoted to plastic-free waters estimate that in one Neutrogena Deep Cleanse there are 360,000 microbeads!

Some manufacturers claim natural alternatives such as apricot shell, or walnuts but environmental scientists point out that degrading these in open waters could use up oxygen that is required for the wildlife.

There are enzymes such as bromelain or papain from pineapple and papaya that are very effective skin exfoliators. There’s oatmeal, coffee and rice. A few companies such as Dermaviduals use jojoba beads which are a biodegradable natural wax. All of these are less likely to harm the environment. Yes, these ingredients cost more and raise the product price but there’s an environment at stake here.

There are now various home gadgets which you can use with your normal non-exfoliating cleanser which will exfoliate. These are rotating mechanical brushes, sonic facial brushes and silicon massage heads.

If you want to ditch the body exfoliant, you can instead turn to your trusty body brushto speed up circulation in the body and thus aid exfoliation, or use an exfoliating wash cloth (AKA Japanese wash cloth).

As for toothpaste, some dentists have found plastic microbeads lodged in gums which can then cause inflammation and lead to infection. Microbeads aren’t doing your teeth any favours.

What can we do?

From now on, if you see a personal care product which describes itself as scrub, exfoliating, refining, resurfacing or renewing watch out for these ingredients:

polyethylene and polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polytetrafluoroethylene, P.E. , P.S., P.P., P.M.M.A.

Support ban the bead:

There are now apps that you can use to tell you if your product has the microbeads. Red means yes, green means no, and there’s orange to say that this brand will not have them in the future but currently it does.

If you already have a product with the microbeads, how do you get rid of it?

If you’re in the US, send it to

If you’re elsewhere, put the lid on and throw it in the bin where it will go to landfill. Not the ideal solution but at least it doesn’t end up in the water and right now, there is no better disposal system.

You could also send it to the head office of the manufacturer with a letter (no refund on postage), they may get the message.

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