Microbeads, the plastic in your cosmetics

microbeads in cosmetics microplastics in toothpaste

In recent years, we’ve been discovering more and more about the plastic pollution we don’t see – microplastics. These are microscopic plastic particles, which often end up polluting our environment. One of the types of microplastics is microbeads.

What are microbeads

Microbeads are small plastic particles manufactured purposefully to be added to cosmetics. Most are made from polyethylene, but other plastic varieties aren’t uncommon. Manufacturers have added microbeads to rinse-off personal care cleansing products because of their cleansing and exfoliating properties.

Many different products in your bathroom could contain microbeads, including scrubs and peelings, toothpaste, a variety of glittery products and makeup, shower gel, and more.

microbeads in cosmetics glitter in makeup

The environmental threats that are microbeads

Microbeads are a dangerous source of plastic pollution, as they’re flushed down the drain after being used. Often, wastewater treatment plants can’t fully filter them out and the microbeads, along with other microplastics, end up polluting our water cycle.

Microbeads are particularly dangerous to water animals, which can accidentally ingest them. The microbeads block their digestive tract, giving the animal a feeling of being full without receiving any nutrients, which can lead to starvation. The particles also absorb toxins, which can then be ingested by the animal along with the microbead. If you eat marine fish and seafood, then these microplastics with toxins can come back into your home through your food.

Some countries including UK, France, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, have banned the use of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics (plastic particles added to exfoliant scrubs). However, other products like deodorant, makeup, and lipstick are still allowed to contain microbeads. At some point, these products will also be rinsed off and contribute to plastic pollution of the environment, even though they’re not classified as rinse-off cosmetics.

How to avoid microbeads

Microbeads can be hiding under more than 500 different ingredient names that are widely used in cosmetics & personal care products. To find the ‘classic’ microbeads, you can start checking the label and avoid products with these ingredients: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), and Nylon (PA).

Another way is to avoid mass-manufactured cosmetics and opt for handmade and sustainable products instead. The app Beat the Microbead can help you to find sustainable products and it also tells you if your current products have microbeads or not.