• Ethical Edition

Sustainability Sunday #20

Microbead madness – how these little devils are ripping your face and killing fish.

As of October this year, the UK government will be banning the use of microbeads which predominantly feature in the ingredients of face washes, body scrubs and toothpastes. These little balls of plastic can actually do much more damage than you could imagine whilst nonchalantly browsing the multi-coloured, perfect skin-promising shelves of Boots and Superdrug.

Now boys, I know this seems like a very girly topic, but actually your skin is just as precious so you should be washing and moisturising like the most committed of girls. The effect of microbeads in these products has a lasting effect on both you and the environment so the news of this impending ban (which actually follows a ban already in place in the USA) is a reason to rejoice.

Let’s start with you:

A microbead, is a teeny tiny piece of plastic, usually spherical, that is mixed into beauty and healthcare products as exfoliation agents, leaving your skin with that glowing red look and your teeth with a little sparkle (supposedly, that’s dependent on how much coffee/red wine you drink). If you take a closer look at that red glow you’ll see that actually although exfoliating away dirt and dead skin cells is a very important part of your skincare routine, using products with plastic microbeads is actually making tiny rips in your skin, which makes it more vulnerable to dirt and bacteria. In addition to scratching your skin, you can also scratch your eyes; the microbeads are tiny enough to get caught in your eyelashes and the corners of your eyes, if you get one of these rubbed into your eye you can scratch your cornea leaving you with sore, red and sometimes a permanent interference in your eyes. It does sound a bit dramatic, but it’s also true.

Even worse, is using a toothpaste with microbeads – typically these are the ones that have whitening properties – as the exfoliation quality of the microbeads essentially exfoliates your gums away. How horrid does that sound?! I’m an over-brusher at the best of times, receiving a verbal slap on the wrist from the dentist every time I go, so I’m fully aware of the dangers of losing gum: nerve pain, sensitive teeth, infected gums, gum disease, teeth rotting, and HAVING TO HAVE TEETH REMOVED 😫.

And finish with fish:

Have you ever eaten caviar? No, me either, but you must appreciate the similar size, shape, texture of microbeads and fish eggs – could be easily confused, right? Particularly if you’re a fish and your brain only has 10 million neurons compared to the 86 billion of a human brain. When you wash your face/body/teeth with a product that has microbeads, the tiny little dots get washed, along with all your grotty dead skin and pollution particles, down a big long waterslide that one way or another ends up in the sea; The Telegraph reported last summer that one shower can release 100,000 microbeads into the ocean.

Once they arrive in the sea, marine life is mistaking microbeads for fish eggs and ingesting them causing digestive system issues within the animals and eventually causing death. It’s not just fish that are being affected; many seabirds also feed on fish eggs, and the fish that may have ingested the microbeads, this disrupts the birds’ digestive system and can prevent them digesting real food properly. Following this food chain path, the microbeads probably end up in our stomachs at some point in the future too – especially if you’re partial to a bit of fish pie.


What can you do?

Avoid, wherever possible, plastic microbead products. Even though the UK (and US) retailers will be removing their own brand products with microbeads in, there will still be plenty on the shelves. You can start with a more natural skin invigoration routine by drinking more water, and getting a more balanced intake of nutrients from good healthy stuff like fruit and veg, and green, camomile, ginger and peppermint teas.

But, if you do feel like you need a good scrub every now and then, you could look out for exfoliating alternatives such as apricot seeds, walnut shells, oats, salt, coffee, sugar and bamboo. Anything that has “polyethylene”, “polypropylene”, “polymethyl” or “nylon” labelled on the ingredients and curious dots in the mix, will contain plastic microbeads. There are lots of natural scrubs around to have a go with now too (this Vanilla & Grapefruit one by Soap Nuts feels as good as it sounds) or you could even have a go at making your own scrubs at home – coconut oil mixed with a squeeze of lemon juice and some oats or coffee grains works nicely!

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