Microbeads – an ethical dilemma

Microbeads are tiny plastic spheres that have been added to a range of cosmetics, skincare products,  toothpaste and sunscreen over recent years.  Many exfoliant products, in particular, contain large amounts of microbeads that are washed down household drains every day.  Scientists have discovered that the ocean floor has been contaminated by these plastic beads, which are too small to be blocked by filtration systems. As a result, the beads are being ingested by marine species and there are concerns about toxicity in the food chain. Even freshwater lakes have been found to be contaminated by microbeads. The microbeads are not biodegradable so the potential consequences for the environment are horrendous.

This is really bad news as microbeads were a breakthrough for gentle and effective skin exfoliation. Previously, exfoliants contained natural ingredients, such as ground almond shells and fruit kernels – the equivalent of using sandpaper on your skin in our view. We can expect microbeads to be phased out quickly as there is immense public pressure on companies that use these ingredients. Hopefully, the cosmetic companies will soon find an alternative ingredient that will comply with their environmental responsibilities.

So, what can we do in the meantime? Check labels on any new cosmetic, skincare, toothpaste and sunscreen products you buy to ensure that the ingredients do not include microbeads. Do the same with your existing products and find out how to dispose of products containing microbeads responsibly. Definitely do not flush the products down the drain. If you intend to finish using the products, do not use them in a shower or rinse in a washbasin. Removing the product from your skin with a damp disposable cloth may be the safest option. Remember to wrap the cloth and dispose of it via the landfill garbage collection.

Research new exfoliants emerging on the market to find environmentally responsible alternatives. Visit Fauna and Flora International (FFI) to find out more about this issue and download your copy of the Good Scrub Guide.

If you prefer to be an activist, spread the word on social media and join or support organisations lobbying for change on this issue.