Modified image of plastic beads via Wikipedia
We’ve all had a bad experience with a cleanser; a breakout, overly dried skin, itchiness… but skin quibbles are nothing compared to the damage that’s done by microbeads.
Microbeads are those little plastic balls you find in some supermarket exfoliant brands. They’re designed to help slough off dead skin cells, leaving your face looking fresher.
But the problem with microbeads starts once you’re finished with them. Microbeads – unlike other exfoliants like salt or oat scrubs – are not biodegradable. When you wash them down the drain, they make their way into the water ways becoming a major cause of environmental pollution. Microbeads have been found in lakes and rivers all over the United States.
In Lake Michigan, researchers have found 17,000 of the beads per square kilometer. The problem is so bad that the state of Illinois has banned the sale and manufacture of products containing the beads, and New York, Minnesota, California and Ohio are also considering bans at the moment.
In Australia, there has been very little study of microbeads in the environment, but Dr Scott Wilson, a coastal management expert from the Central Queensland University Gladstone told The Sydney Morning Herald that it is likely that microbeads are not only harming fish, but humans too.
This is because microbeads don’t just clog waterways, they also look exactly like fish eggs, which means there are plenty of marine animals treating them as snacks. “We know they’re being ingested – there’s a whole gamut of species that we now know have these microplastics in their guts… We need to find out what risks there are to humans as well as to the organisms.”
So what’s the solution?
The good news is, if you cut microbeads out of your beauty cabinet your face isn’t going to miss them. Microbeads aren’t actually great for your skin. For the very same reason they damage the environment – they don’t break down – it’s easy to over exfoliate with microbeads. Rather than just removing your dead skin cells, they can actually damage the protective outer layer of your skin, leaving you prone to breakouts, dryness and a blotchy complexion.