What’s the matter with microbeads?

What’s the matter with microbeads?

cotton wool pad being rubbed on facial skin

Take a look at the contents of your bathroom cabinet or walk down the toiletries aisles of any supermarket and what do you see?

Shelves groaning with exfoliant products such as facial scrubs and body polishes. And  not to forget toothpaste.

The chances are that a good number of these products use microbeads to achieve their scrubbing power.

What are microbeads and why should you care?

Microbeads, as the name implies, are miniscule bits of spherical plastic used by manufacturers in a huge range of products.

They range in size, according to this article from Forbes, from 1 millimetre (about the size of a pinhead), to 1 micrometre – too small for the naked eye to see.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, a typical exfoliating shower gel might contain as much plastic, in microbead form, as the container itself.

That’s a lot of plastic in one product.

So what’s the problem with them?

Described somewhat luridly by Greenpeace as ‘gross, polluting plastic’ these microbeads are wreaking havoc on the environment. And they’re not doing much for your digestive system and all-round health either.

Each time you shower or brush your teeth or use some household cleaners these itsy bitsy teeny-weeny plastic spheres go swooshing down the drain.

And our Victorian sewage systems are just not designed to filter them out.

All at sea

We’re all aware now that our oceans are metaphorically drowning in tonnes of plastic waste: bottles and bags and more.

All this plastic is ugly and damaging to the marine environment and the creatures that live from it. It often ends up in the stomachs of all manner of marine life.

And microbeads are adding to the problem.

Thus, what may seem innocuous on the face of it (literally if it’s your face wash they’re in) is causing untold harm.

It’s not only seagulls that are suffering for your complexion and your pearly whites though. Not only are you smothering yourself in them you’re eating them too. Both directly – when you brush your teeth – and indirectly when you eat fish and seafood that have ingested microplastics and the toxins associated with them.  And that’s a lot to stomach!

This infographic from Greenpeace illustrates the issue well.

Are there any alternatives?

Well yes – there are.

This article from Elle points out that such major cosmetic companies as Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Proctor & Gamble have promised to make the move to natural alternatives to microbeads. But, as Elle states, that switch could take years.

In the meantime though there are alternatives to look out for or to make yourself from store cupboard ingredients – many more than those listed here. Lemons, yoghurt and sugar can all be used to make exfoliants.

  1. Whole Oats

Not only a healthy breakfast, oats are a gentle exfoliant ideal for sensitive skin.  Oats, as we know, soak up milk to make porridge. In the same way they soak up excess oil on the skin. Grind them in a blender and add to water to make a paste.

  1. Salt

Not known for its gentle touch salt scrubs are best used on rough body and feet skin rather than your face. Salt is one of Mother Nature’s great detoxifiers that will unblock your pores, get your circulation going and tighten your skin.

  1. Coffee

Notable for treating cellulite, coffee as an exfoliant is no has bean. It also works well on stretch marks and feet and stimulates blood flow.

  1. Jojoba beads

It’s interesting that jojoba beads are sometimes mistaken for microbeads. Made form from jojoba oil they are biodegradable.

Broadly speaking jojoba is a shrub native to the southern end of the United States and the northern end of Mexico.

The native Americans knew of jojoba’s soothing and moisturizing properties and used it to treat sunburnt skin.

Many over-the counter products use jojoba for its moisturizing properties and its stability. The fact that jojoba is biodegradable is a bonus.

Jojoba beads are also, as this article points out, a good choice for consumers with an allergy to nuts. And they feel as good when applied to the skin as they look!

The Gentle Touch

Pink&Green, based in Swindon, are one company eschewing the use of microbeads in their products. Their facial exfoliator uses JoJoba beads instead. And they do so for the sane reasons as many other beauty product producers: because they clean with a gentleness of touch lacking in many other exfoliants. Nor do they damage the skin, leaving it open to bacteria.

 

They combine the jojoba beads with shea butter and sunflower oil for a beautiful creamy consistency.

Carol, founder of Pink&Green says: ‘When I’m creating a product, I look to nature for answer to the problem I want a product to solve. We are all, after all, made up of the same elements. I see no good reason to compromise on what nature does so well. Here at Pink&Green all our products are made in small batches and packaged and presented as if making a gift for a special friend.

This recent testimonial from a satisfied client sums up well what Pink&Green is about:

I came across Carol before her products. Her caring and ethical attitude towards skin and body products and the wonderful aromas from her product stall didn’t need long in convincing me to try some – the sample skin care kit and the Neroli and Frankincense Body Butter … Carol delivers outstanding customer service and I love that she is continually updating and launching new products.  WM – Forest of Dean

Carol again: ‘So why on earth would we compromise on that and use plastic?  That would go against the grain – if you’ll pardon the pun.

As we say on our website: ‘Beauty in Simplicity’.

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