Microbeads – A Small Ingredient Causing Big Problems


Microbeads are a popular ingredient found in many physical scrub face washes today. Those teeny, tiny round spheres of exfoliation pleasure that people adore have become much more problematic than we ever thought possible. Those plastic spheres don’t degrade and worse still – they’re ending up in our lakes and oceans. See the thing is, most of these spheres are tiny (I’m talking a sphere size of 0.0004 all the way to 1.24 mm). They’re about as small as a pinhead or the thickness of a fingernail. And their unbelievably small size prevents them from being properly filtered at wastewater treatment plants. This failure to be filtered means that the filtered clean water pours out to the oceans and lakes, peppered with bright purple and blue plastic beads capable of irreversibly harming the ecosystem.

Once in the water, these plastic microbeads begin to absorb micropollutants. Which doesn’t sound all that terrible; however, zooplankton, fish larvae, and various other small sea critters can and do ingest these microbeads.  And, as we know from high school biology, these little bits of fauna  are at the bottom of the food chain – readily consumed by bigger and bigger sea critters. There’s a worry that larger animals, like Blue-fin tuna or seagulls, will begin to fall ill due to the problem associated with plastic microbeads.

It seems, however, states aren’t taking this threat lying down. Numerous states are working towards drafting and passing new legislation to ban microbeads. Period. No more plastic spheres of poorly tested awful. The states proposing this legislation are: Illinois, New York, Ohio, and New Jersey- along with California proposing the use of only biodegradable microbeads.

So what can you do about it?

Polyethylene and Polypropylene Microspheres

The bad guys. The terrible plastics. THE PLANET RUINERS! Ahem. To start off, when you’re looking for a safe microbead scrub, these little pesky problems are what you want to avoid. When you read the ingredient list of a cleanser that you’re considering you’re looking for “Polyethylene” or “Polypropylene” in the ingredient list. These are the microbeads that are making their way into our oceans and the great lakes at an alarming rate. In the Great Lakes alone, researchers have found hundreds of thousands of unnatural, brightly colored spheres. These new findings lead researchers to believe that these perfect spheres are actually plastic microbeads and not decomposing bigger plastics. You can see for yourself how perfectly spherical the debris they found was.

 Chemist Sherri Mason, who led the research on the Great Lakes in July 2012,  found microplastics to make up the highest incidence rate in her study. The microplastics were frequently spherical- something that doesn’t often occur in nature.4

Jojoba Wax Beads

Jojoba wax beads are a safe alternative to microbeads because they are harmless to the environment. The spheres of jojoba wax easily mimic plastic microbeads: they work precisely the same, they look precisely the same, and they have the pleasure of not destroying the Great Lakes or oceans.2 Now you might be thinking, “Well what the heck here, Sherrianne? If they’re the same size, aren’t they ending up in the water, too?” Yes. Yes they are. But what’s fabulous about jojoba beads is that they’re non-toxic and they’re biodegradable. So if wildlife consumes them, there’s not the same harm as there is with plastic microbeads. So when you’re looking for a scrubby bead face wash look for “Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Wax Beads.” You’ll be glad you did.

What’s the bottom line?

Non-biodegradable microbeads suck. They suck something fierce. They’re ruining our fresh water lakes and oceans; they’re getting into the guts of sea life from plankton to wild-caught tuna.3 And the reality is that if they’re in the wild-caught tuna, getting into the fish we eat, there’s great potential for these microbead loaded sea creatures to work their way into the food chain at large. Now, all of this sounds hyperbolic and fear-mongery, but the sad fact is that all of this is true. This is happening. It’s happening when you rinse your brand new plastic microbead face wash down the drain. And it happens every time you continue to use it.


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