Not all exfoliators treat the planet well. (Photo: Getty Images)
Those tiny plastic microbeads in your bath and beauty products may help exfoliate and brighten your skin, but they’re also a major threat to our planet’s ecosystems and wildlife — and our entire population.
Once they wash down our drains, many microbeads pass straight through the filters in our sewage systems (they’re that miniscule!) and infiltrate our lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they absorb toxic pollutants. Fish then feast on the poisonous particles, and later get gobbled up by other animals — or end up on our own dinner tables.
“Many communities depend heavily on fishing for their food supplies, so this issue becomes quickly about the poisoning of people,” confirms Julie Longyear, herbal chemist and founder of holistic skincare company Blissoma, which eschews microbeads as well as synthetic and petroleum additives.
Recently, a poll by Greenpeace UK revealed that two-thirds of the British public are in favor of a legal, nationwide ban of microbeads. “We believe that introducing a ban in the UK will add momentum to the process of achieving a ban across the whole of the EU and beyond,” Louise Edge, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, tells Yahoo Beauty.
The U.S. already passed legislation banning mircrobeads this past December, when President Obama signed the Microbead Free Waters Act of 2015, requiring companies to phase out the gritty offenders — even those marketed as biodegradable — from all products by July 1, 2017.
Other countries that have legally banned microbeads include Canada and parts of Europe. According to Edge, bans are currently being debated in even more countries, including India and Australia. As for the UK, Greenpeace launched a petition in January calling on the public to urge Prime Minister David Cameron to take their cause seriously and outlaw microbeads.
“[The petition] has so far garnered nearly 275,000 signatures, making it one of our fastest growing sign-ups ever. This demonstrates that a vast number of people are concerned about the potential impact their skincare, beauty products, and toothpaste could have on the marine environment,” says Edge.
And we’ll likely see even more nations getting on board with the microbead ban, since microbead pollution has worldwide implications that are hard to refute. “All the water on earth circulates through rivers, ocean currents, and evaporation — which means that microbeads that enter the water supply in Minnesota could someday end up in Northern Africa if they are capable of floating,” warns Longyear.
So what can you do to keep your skin vibrant without contributing to this epidemic? It’s simple: Buy products made from safer, microbead alternatives. So many options exist, and they’re just as effective — if not better — at sloughing off dead skin cells, treating fine lines, and removing dirt and oil from your skin.
Enzymes and mild acids are among the best choices — and they require no scrubbing. “Enzymes dissolve dead skin cells, and acids, like Vitamin C, loosen the top layer of cells and help them slough off,” says Longyear. “Vitamin C is also a skin brightener and helps build collagen, so it performs multiple functions.”
For the body, Longyear recommends Rhassoul clay, which “has a texture like fine sand and will help exfoliate and re-mineralize the skin,” and brown rice flour, which has a little more texture to it and can make a good body scrub. She adds that all these ingredients are completely biodegradable.
Greenpeace UK recommends products made of high-impact ingredients like nut shells and salts. The organization provides comprehensive information on microbead pollution over at BeatTheMicrobead.org, along with a smartphone app that scans a product’s barcode for plastics and a super-long list of safe and effective product recommendations.
Fauna & Flora International’s Good Scrub Guide is a another great source of up-to-date information on the anti-microbead movement.
Here are some microbead-free products we (and the experts) recommend to help refresh your beauty stash: