While plastic overall is considered the most abundant form of marine debris found in our oceans, small plastic debris that are less than five millimeters in length are called microplastics. Plastic microbeads are a type of microplastic that are extremely small, in some cases very difficult to see. They are commonly used in exfoliating and personal care products due to their ability to help remove dry dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, and unclog pores. Due to the critical negative impact that microplastics have on the environment, many companies are looking to remove microbeads from their products, and look towards alternatives.
By using microbeads in our beauty products, we are not only putting these plastics directly into the environment, but into our own bodies as well, which has many adverse health effects that are continuing to be studied today. This process of plastics entering our bodies revolves around bioaccumulation and biomagnification. Bioaccumulation is the accumulation of toxic chemicals in the tissues of a specific organism. Biomagnification, on the other hand, refers to the increased concentration of toxic chemicals over time that exists in animals higher up on the food chain.
To address these issues, regulations have been put in place like The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 that prohibits any manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off personal care cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads. This regulation also entails other cosmetics like toothpastes. However, it is important to note that companies are still finding ways to use microbeads by being obscure in their product’s ingredients list. While the main plastic that is used in microbead products is called polyethylene, companies will list more complex names like acrylate copolymer and polypropylene, which are both also plastics.
Looking closely at the ingredients list is one way that we can avoid microplastics in our cosmetics. However, another strategy is to support campaigns like the Plastic Soup Foundation’s Beat the Microbead campaign. On their campaign website, they provide a product search feature to search for brands and products and see if there are microplastics in them. They also provide an easy to follow Guide to Microplastics, their very own “Zero Plastic Inside” logo for products that are guaranteed 100% free of microplastics, and notably, their free app with the ability to scan products for microplastics.
Overall, Seaside Sustainability’s efforts to protect our environment are directly in line with the work that the Plastic Soup Foundation is doing with their Beat the Microbead campaign. With the impact that microbeads and microplastics can have not only on these environments, but humans and the entire planet as a whole, it is of utmost importance that we all do our part in recognizing the possible existence of microplastics in our personal care products.
Cosmetics Europe. (n.d.). All about plastic microbeads. Cosmetics Europe - The Personal Care Association. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://cosmeticseurope.eu/how-we-take-action/leading-voluntary-actions/all-about-plastic-microbeads/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20manufacturers%20have%20added%20plastic,well%20as%20help%20unclog%20pores.
FDA. (2022, February 25). The Microbead-Free Waters Act: FAQs. U.S. Food & Drug
Administration. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/microbead-free-waters-act-faqs
Marine Litter Solutions. (n.d.). Plastic Microbeads. Marine Litter Solutions. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.marinelittersolutions.com/about-us/countries/united-states/what-are-plastic-microbeads/
National Geographic Society. (n.d.). Biomagnification and Bioaccumulation. National Geographic Society. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/biomagnification-and-bioaccumulation/
NOAA. (2021, February 26). What are microplastics? NOAA's National Ocean Service. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html
Plastic Soup Foundation. (n.d.). Beat the Microbead. Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://www.beatthemicrobead.org/
Zero Waste California. (n.d.). Microbeads Are Banned. Why Are Companies Still Using Them? Zero Waste California. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://zerowastecalifornia.org/2020/07/20/microbeads-are-banned-why-are-companies-still-using-them/