One of my co-workers wrote an article this week about a Dartmouth study looking at the alarming presence of “microplastics,” or very tiny pieces of plastic garbage, frozen into Arctic sea ice. As the ice melts, those tiny pieces of plastic could be ingested by birds, mammals and sea life.
What’s that got to do with beauty products? Well, as it turns out, “some of the pieces may be polymer beads, or remnants of those beads, that are contained in some cosmetic products.”
That’s right: Microbeads are making their way out of your shower and into the Arctic ice pack. And they could be making their way back into your home, according to this Australian newspaper:
Tiny and buoyant, and not filtered by sewerage systems, they are swiftly ingestible by marine life, making them more immediately dangerous than a discarded drink bottle. They are likely to have entered the food chain — so while you wouldn’t eat your facial scrub from the jar, you might be consuming it if you eat fish.
So, what’s the answer? Avoid microbeads, clearly — although they’re sneaking around in places you might not suspect (like your toothpaste, possibly), so it may require some deep label reading and research. According to The Guardian, Johnson & Johnson, Unilver and Proctor & Gamble have all pledged to phase out microbeads, but they say it’s going to take several years. Lush says it does not use microplastics in any of its products. Beat the Microbead posts updates about companies that have responded to their requests to stop using microplastics and a mobile app you can use to scan products to check for known microplastics.
And there are, of course, natural alternatives if you need a scrubbing product; I’ve written about some here and here.