You probably began noticing a couple of years ago that some versions of your favorite health and beauty products were suddenly advertising that they now contained “microbeads.” These microscopic miracles were purported to do everything from providing extra exfoliation, to brightening your teeth, to blurring the look of fine lines and wrinkles. But it wasn’t long before consumer safety officials began turning a critical eye toward this strange new addition to our soaps, lotions, and toothpastes.
Upon closer inspection, it turns out that microbeads can be pretty harmful. Here’s why.
First of All, They’re Just Plastic
There is nothing especially mysterious about microbeads. They are literally small bits of plastic that are mixed into beauty products. You can see or feel the microbeads in some products, but you may hardly notice their presence in others. However, whether you can feel them or not, the bottom line is that your favorite beauty products have now been pumped up with a certain percentage of plain old plastic.
At best, microbeads fall far short of being a miracle ingredient, and at worst they could be having some far-reaching effects that manufacturers did not fully consider before adding them to their products.
They May Be Exposing You To Pollution or Bacteria
Depending on the source of the plastic beads and the process by which they were manufactured or recycled, they may be harboring harmful chemicals. Considering that microbeads are most often found in products meant to promote health and beauty, it certainly seems counterintuitive to include anything that might contain dangerous substances.
Not only that, but the use of products containing microbeads can sometimes pave the way for bacteria to make inroads into your system. For instance, dentists around the world collectively gasped when they realized what could happen if too many microbeads made their way in-between gums and teeth. They can introduce harmful bacteria, and even cause inflammation or infection. Microbeads used in skin care products can also have similar consequences.
They Pollute Waters and Harm Wildlife
So after you have removed your makeup, brushed your teeth, or rinsed off last night’s moisturizer, where do all those tiny particles of plastic wind up? The answer is, back in the water system.
While water treatment plants are truly amazing places capable of handling all types of debris and pollutants, there were not designed to deal with microscopic plastic beads. As a result, billions of tiny microbeads are slipping through, and being introduced into our waterways.
Although plastic is neither nutritious nor easy on the digestive systems of living things, some smaller organisms seem to be mistaking microbeads for food and eating them. Larger organisms then eat the smaller organisms and consequently the plastic particles are finding their way into the systems of aquatic wildlife all the way up the food chain.
There Are Natural Alternatives Available
Wanting a little extra exfoliation or scrubbing power in your beauty products is neither a bad thing, nor a new concept. The only new thing is that plastic is being used as an exfoliant. Beauty products can also be made with salt, sugar, pumice, or walnut husks to achieve the same beneficial effects as microbeads, without the undesirable ones.
How Can I Be Sure I’m Avoiding Microbeads?
First, become an avid label reader. Your skin care or dental products may not openly advertise the use of microbeads, but they may list the following ingredients: polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polylactic acid, or nylon. Any of these quite likely indicate the presence of microbeads, and should therefore be avoided.
You can also find companies that do not use microbeads at all, and stick with their products.
Lastly, you can get in touch with lawmakers and manufacturers to voice your concerns about the use of microbeads in health and beauty products. Many countries are already moving toward legislation which will completely ban their use, but there is still more work to be done. If you feel strongly that the use of microbeads is detrimental to the environment, make your voice heard.