The face wash so bad, it’s been banned

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.


Avoiding microbeads is easy. Just don’t buy any products that list them as an ingredient. Because up until recently, microbeads were seen as a good thing, products mostly declare on the front of the packaging.

Alternative body exfoliants

If you still want a good, solid scrub  product we’d suggest using a salt, sugar or plant fibre based exfoliator like Soap & Glory’s delicious smelling Breakfast Scrub or Lush’s Buffy Body Butter.

For a DIY solution, put a fist full of oatmeal in an old stocking, soak it for a couple of minutes, and rub it over your body the next time you have a bath.

You can also use a loofah, pumice stone or an exfoliating glove – just make sure you clean it with a disinfectant regularly.

Alternative face exfoliants

Your face is nowhere near as tough as your body, so be wary of all but the softest manual exfoliants.

Face brushes like the Clarisonic, or the rubbery Foreo Luna (below) are gentle enough to use daily with your cleanser.

Personally, I prefer to use a chemical exfoliant – Vitamin A cream. It’s not sold over the counter, but for $11 and a trip to the doctor, you can get an amazing prescription Retiniod cream. Just make sure you use it only as directed by your doctor, wear loads of sunscreen, and never exfoliate manually when you’re exfoliating chemically.

What about MicroDermaBrasion?

If you’re getting your skin polished professionally on the regular, ask your beauty therapist what sort of product your treatment uses. Clinic-quality MicroDermaBrasion typically uses crystals like aluminum oxide, rather than plastic beads – but it’s always worth enquiring if you’re concerned.