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July 24, 2007

Plastic Microbeads in Facial Scrubs — We’re Flushing Plastic Down the Drain!

 

06/10/2013 Update:  Several organizations have waged a campaign to get companies to eliminate polyethylene micro-beads from their facial scrubs.  Please read my updated post to take action and learn about what other kinds of products contain microplastics.

Here is the text of my original article from July of 2007, which was updated in December 2011:

Say what? The little grains in exfoliating scrubs more often than not are made of plastic these days! Plastic that is meant to be rinsed down the drain, where it enters our waterways and the bodies of aquatic creatures. I almost didn’t believe it when I read it in this article: Polymers Are Forever. So I did a Google search, and this is what I found…

MD Formulations Face & Body Scrub contains polyethylene granules.
Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Face & Body Polish contains micro-fine polyethylene beads.
SkinCeuticals Body Polish contains polyethylene beads.
Helen Pensanti Exfoliating Cleanser contains polyethylene beads from Switzerland. (Do the Swiss make better plastic?)
Isomers Manual Microderm Cleanser contains polyethylene beads.

Thinking that it was just the high-end cleansers that contain plastic, I went to drugstore.com and did a search on “polyethylene.” There were over a thousand items that contained “polyethylene” in the ingredients list! (12/07/2011:  Since this post was first published, Drugstore.com has changed its Search function so you can no longer see all the products that contain a particular ingredient.) Among the facial scrubs containing plastic were pretty much anything described as having “microbeads,” such as:

Dove Gentle Exfoliating Foaming Facial Cleanser
Nivea face scrub
Aveeno daily scrub
Neutrogena Body Clear body scrub
L’Oreal Pure Zone Pore Unclogging Scrub Cleanser
Ambi Even & Clear Skincare, Exfoliating Wash
Clean & Clear Oil-Free Daily Pore Cleanser
Phisoderm Nurturing Facial Polish
Garnier Nutritioniste Nuti-Pure Microbead Cream Scrub

So how about some good news? Here are some facial scrubs on the drugtore.com web site which do not contain polyethylene. Several of these are labeled as 100% biodegradable.

Alba Botanica Clarifying Scrub
Alba Hawaiian Facial Scrub, Pineapple Enzyme
Aubrey Organics North Woods Face Scrub
Avalon Organics Exfoliating Enzyme Scrub
Burt’s Bees Citrus Facial Scrub
Burt’s Bees Peach & Willowbark, Deep Pore Scrub
derma e Microdermabrasion Scrub
Earth Science Gentle Facial Scrub, Apricot
Grandpa’s Old Fashioned Oatmeal Soap, For Face & Bath
Jason Natural Cosmetics Scrubble (various types)
Jason Red Elements Exfoliating Scrub
Juice Organics New! Apple Exfoliating Peel
Kiss My Face Organics Jump Start, Exfoliating Face Wash
Kiss My Face Organics So Refined, Jojoba & Mint Facial
Nature’s Gate Revitalizing Facial Scrub
Zia Natural Skincare Natural Microdermabrasion Scrub

So the moral to the story is: Read labels! You might be buying more plastic than just the container!



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26 comments
Mart
Mart

I would like to ask something, before everyone eliminates these beads, how did they get there. Last time I checked sewage should not be getting into our waters and if it is then we have a bigger problem than these beads. I have a feeling else is going on and would not jump to conclusions especially for the rinse off products.

Jo
Jo

Great work, Beth! I saw your TEDs and was very impressed with your initiative and achievements. I'm starting to work on this marine litter subject and fortunatelly it's becoming well disseminated. Not so well known, however, if the impact microplastics can have and scientists are only recently strating to understand how these particles are entering the food-web. Addressing the issue above regarding the waste water treatment plants, most systems will unlikely remove these tiny particles (some peer-reviewed articles have discussed it) an therefore it is expected that most of our exfoliating residues will end in rivers and seas. This is totally unnecessary, as there are so many alternatives to plastic microspheres, as you so well exemplified. Here's a recently created petition on the subject: http://www.change.org/petitions/cosmetic-manufacturers-stop-contributing-to-marine-plastic-pollution-with-your-exfoliating-scrubs It would be great if you could disseminate it among like-minded people. Best wishes

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Thanks, Jo. I signed and linked on Facebook.

Pavlina
Pavlina

Doesn't the water treatment facility remove this from the treated water?

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Pavlina, that's a good question. But even if it's true, what happens with the plastic beads that are removed? They still end up in the environment.

carlamoffatt
carlamoffatt

Don't forget about Dermadoctor KP Duty body scrub. Its exfoliant is polyethylene beads.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Just discovered your blog, it´s great. I read ´The World Without Us´ while on holiday and got very upset about the small plastic beads in body scrubs, so I am pleased to see that the message is getting out. What do the manufacturers of these products have to say about this matter? Shouldn´t there be some sort of ban on their use?Thanks Beth for such a good blogSue Jones

Him
Him

I'm so glad to find this post. I've been using one of the plastic-containing brands, and I had no idea. The concept that I'm washing my face with plastic that will go down the drain and stay in our environment -- argh! I'm going to try one of the alternatives mentioned in your blog or the comments. Thanks for sharing this information.

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi GuamGal. It doesn't look like it's got plastic in it. I think the moisture beads are made from gelatin. The things that have plastic are exfolliating scrubs that feel rough on your skin.That said, there are some worrisome ingredients in the bodywash. For one thing, the label lists "fragrance," which probably means phthalates. Check out my post about Pure & Natural soap for more info about fragrance and phthalates:http://www.fakeplasticfish.com/2008/06/pure-natural-is-just-name-not.htmlBeth

GuamGal
GuamGal

I bought some Softsoap bodywash with moisture beads. http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid=165899&catid=64337The label doesn't list polyethylene, but I'm wondering if those moisture beads are of the same stuff, or if they dissolve. Can you help me?Thanks for an awesome blog! I live on Guam so the firsthand effects of what we toss in the water (with intent and otherwise) are especially clear to me.

Allie
Allie

This is revolting! It's so unnecessary!

Anonymous
Anonymous

MyChelles "incredible pumpkin peel" is a glorious way to exfoliate, especially if like me one has sensitive skin; it exfoliates helps cellular turnover and truly leaves my face smooth and soft, doesn't dry out at all! I wish more of the world were as conscious as this gem of an article merci

christyb
christyb

I accidentally posted anonymously but I asked the question about what to do with product that I have...Throwing it away would mean throwing away a 32oz. recyclable plastic bottle as well as the plastic pump and stem. I could empty the bottle into something - I fear that just putting it in the trash it will end up in the soil and still pollute.I hate these kind of conundrums! This reminds me of most elections - which is the lesser of the two evils choice?!

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Dear anonymous professional esthetician, please reread the article. It is not about whether or not polyethylene beads are safe for the face. It's whether or not flushing them down the drain is safe for our oceans and eco-system. Plastic accumulates toxins in the environment and enters the food chain. Please do some more reading about this issue. The article, Plastic Ocean, on my left sidebar is a great place to start.

Anonymous
Anonymous

As a professional esthetician polyethelyne beads are safe. They do not enter the peidermis at all, they are rounded with soft edges so no micro-tears on the epidermis like the apricot scrubs (which are never to be used on the face - ever!)- yes I know they saw that on the package - NEVER ON THE FACE!!! Micro tears intot he epidermis (if you were to look at the skin under a microscope). These micro tears allow bacteria (good and bad to enter the skin). Polyethelyne beads don't sound so bad after all do they? Have a nice day ladies!

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi Anonymous. What to do with the unused product? I think in this case it would probably do less harm in a landfill than being allowed to flush down the drain. You don't want to add more plastic to our waterways. Anyone else have a different opinion?

The Green Cat
The Green Cat

That's crazy! Thanks for sharing that!Back when I used a scrub, I used something from the Body Shop that was basically ground up azuki beans. I'd never even think to suspect there was PLASTIC in facial scrub.

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

Wow. Who knew?!?!?!? I'm glad my rosacea-riddled face forced me to quit using scrubs some years ago! It's just frigtening how pervasive it is! Thanks for the research!

Anonymous
Anonymous

I used to work in the cosmetics industry. The reason plastic is used for scrubs is that the size and shape of the bead can be controlled which is better for your skin abrasive-wise and product packaging. If the size and shape of the beads are controlled the pumps/bottles are a stable size in addition to the benefits to your skin.Those that use apricot, peach, avocado, etc... use the seed/pit and when those are ground there is no control and many of the pieces are sharp which scratch/cut the skin. Abrading your skin several times a week is not good - especially your face.It's interesting, the product I used to represent uses polyethylene. I still use it because it is the best product I have ever used. However, I never even thought about the plastic until reading this. Of course I know it contained plastic but I never thought of it - wishful non-connection?!I'm sure I can find something better for me and the environment - I like some of the suggestions other posters left.What are the suggestions to do with the product I have left?

Hillary
Hillary

I just read about how polyethylene beads in body scrubs are consumed by animals that live in the water. Of course I have 2 products with them that I won't be using any more! Thanks for providing the info. Check out the book The World Without Us for more about plastic in the oceans.

Annie M
Annie M

Thanks so much for providing a list of the cleansers that don't have plastic beads. I just found out yesterday about the problem, and of course the Oil of Olay I'm using had the plastic. I'll switch to one of the others right away.

heather t
heather t

Aw crud, the one I have has polyethelene in it. So do I throw it out or what???Anyway, you can make your own body scrub. Just mix equal amounts of sugar or salt (your preference although most use sugar) and olive oil or any other veggie oil. You can add herbs like rosemary or lavender for the aromatherapy benefits.

axelle
axelle

I think using a washcloth every day will remove as much dead skin as a scrub. You can spread moisurizer, cleansing lotion or soap lather on wet skin and go over it with a damp washcloth or use a damp washcloth with nothing else. Baking soda is a great exfoliator. I combine it with any lotion I can put on my face and very, very gently work it over my skin and then rinse. If you apply too much pressure, you'll "scratch" the skin, since baking soda is an abrasive. But I scrub it along the sides of and on the soles of my feet, where the skin is tough.

terrible person
terrible person

Ugh. Why would anyone want to wash his or her face with plastic beads? That's like ... I don't know, using a plastic toilet brush to scrub your back!

Sunny
Sunny

Crap. That sucks. I'm glad I've never used any of those brands. Right now I'm using Desert Sun or something like that with Jojoba and Almond meal or something. I also usually use Saint Ives Apricot which has walnuts. Only problem there some say that's too harsh for your skin. Can't imagine plastic is much better! Thanks for the info.

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