Why Your Face Scrub Might Be Destroying the Environment

E-V-I-L. –iStock

No one likes clogged pores. But no one likes toxins polluting our country’s supply of fresh water and messing up the food chain either.

Turns out those little plastic microbeads — or “scrubbers’’ as they’re commonly referred to by the cosmetic industry — that can be found as an exfoliation agent in some body wash, face cleansers, and even toothpastes, are horribly damaging to the environment. Their as-implied “micro’’ size (typically less than one millimeter in diameter) allows the plastic beads to slip through transplant plant filters and back into the fresh water supply.

Not only can that deliver toxins back into the drinking water YOU MAY CONSUME, it also looks a whole lot like tasty food to the fish that live in the Great Lakes. NPR interviewed an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York, Fredonia, named Sherri Mason, who has been doing research on the Great Lakes over the past few years. Her team has been monitoring the damage done by microbeads — and it ain’t looking good. She says, “They are about the same size as fish eggs, which means that, essentially, they look like food. To any organism that lives in the water, they are food.’’


Microbeads also happen to be absorbent little suckers and apparently “can soak up toxins like a sponge,’’ meaning consuming fish that have devoured their fair share of the plastic particles can then pass along their chemical-and-poison-centers right into your digestive tract.

Bills to ban products containing microbeads have been proposed in five state in the U.S. and have already passed through the state Senate in Illinois and House in New York, according to TechTimes. The states are urging the manufacturers that use the beads to discontinue or phase out products that use the beads, or begin to seek alternative ingredients. NPR reports, “L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have already announced that they are phasing out the use of microbeads and are testing alternatives like sand and apricot seeds.’’

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