The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
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!

Leave a Reply

62 Comments on "Plastic Microbeads in Facial Scrubs — We’re Flushing Plastic Down the Drain!"


Guest
prometheamoth1
11 months 29 days ago
Guest
prometheamoth1
11 months 29 days ago

BristolDavidson Wax is also made from plants, especially government-subsidized (=nice and cheap) soy and corn.

Guest
Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson or you might jump from wonderful wiki to an article published by the CSIRO into Sources of critical contaminants in domestic wastewater: contaminant contribution from household products. Conclusions: Overall, the report indicates that household products and householder preferences can have a marked impact on the loads of specific priority contaminants discharged into wastewater.
Using product selection alone, it was estimated that the load from household products could be reduced to 80% and between 36% to 52% of the expected human waste load.”
Yes BD Troll, CSIRO is spending money trying to figure out how we can reduce the waste we put into our waste water.  because it is so much easier to not pollute and contaminate it in the first place than end up with a huge challenge and cost to try and remove once it’s in there.

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

yeh and wikipedia is so complete an education how could you Anonymous fail to understand the issue of environmental contamination due to human behaviour if you haven’t read a wiki about sewage treatment?  or you might get a real education and read something like:  SOURCES OF PRIORITY CONTAMINANTS IN DOMESTIC WASTEWATER

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson something for you doosh bag  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969704001937

Guest
Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson haha you really are a doosh bag

Guest
Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson Thankfully there are many companies who take this issue a lot more seriously than you, eg. Fuji Xerox, who have been re-manufacturing and working to include far more bio-plastics in their office equipment.  Re-manufacturing is becoming essential.  Computer upgrades now include removal of your superseded models to be dismantled and re-used.  However, huge amounts of e-waste still find their way to third world countries where children live and work in toxic pits trying to salvage anything with re-sale value.  it’s no laughing matter.

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson ive already answered this but germs do survive treatment and go on to cause illness from time to time. The reason it doesn’t happen more often is because treatment plants use chemicals that kill most bacteria.  We then drink those chemicals if we drink town water.  However, these anti-bacterial treatments do not remove all toxins and contaminants.  Many persist in water after treatment.

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson No wrong again.  If any little plastic beads are present in the sludge from septic, or in the effluent from conventional waste water its just a bi product, another waste problem.  it is not a recycling facility it’s a water treatment facility.  if you want to contribute to recycling you need to put the plastic into the recycling bin, or drop it at a recycling facility.  Plastic micro beads are not recyclable with current equipment.

Guest
Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

@Mart yes Mart there are bigger problems than micro beads getting into waterways. but then again just how big a problem is plastic in the oceans? How do they get there. good question.  numerous ways including via sewage.  this is just one of many contaminants having a catastrophic effect on our eco systems.  we like to think we can just pluck anything packaged to look awesome on the supermarket shelf , chuck the remainders down the sink or into the landfill rubbish bag and we won’t ever have to worry about it.  think again!

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson because loads of chemicals are added such as chlorine, to kill bacteria (again depedning what the plant can afford)   However, some do get through and cause illness eg. Giardia (10 to 100 cysts/L detected in treated water and 10 or few cysts/L in surface water sources and tap water) … and Mr troll chlorine does not break down plastics.  There are other compounds that persist in water after treatment at DWTs including pharmaceuticals.  .. “prescription and non-prescription drugs and their metabolites, fragrance compounds, flame retardants and plasticizers, cosmetic compounds, and a solvent. The detection of these compounds suggests that they resist removal through conventional water-treatment processes”  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969704001937
Google it dude.  Go learn something new.

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson teaandolive wrong Mr BristolDavidson aka Troll, your lack of information is showing.  Not ALL contaminants are removed from ALL STPs.  It depends how expensive the STP is and what toxins you are talking about.  Often waste water is released into water ways to further break down there.  That is why the Government asks industry to comply with standards and reduce toxins and for domestic householders to 
“Never put harmful substances down sinks, toilets or stormwater drains:Substances including petrol, grease, oil, pesticides and herbicides, and solvents such as paint strippers should not be poured down sinks, toilets or stormwater drains. These substances are difficult to remove in the sewage treatment process and cause pollution problems in our local waterways.”

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Joy Gallary
1 year 2 days ago

BristolDavidson your confidence in conventional water treatment plants and in your own limited knowledge is astounding! If the experts were as confident as you why would there be so much research into water contamination including by the CSIRO? Google ‘contaminants in treated waste water’ and begin reading up on scholarly material for studies and testing done on groundwater, surface water, and yes drinking water.  

Conventional STPs are designed to filter out gross solids eg. shit from the toilet and debris that has made it’s way down the sink.. Filtration is not adequate, even at the level of grit eg. sand.  Septic tank systems treat domestic waste water by sedimentation and anaerobic decomposition of sludge.  

The point is our domestic waste is no good for living creatures to consume.  No matter what system you are using everything you pour down the sink immediately becomes an environmental problem including pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, personal care products, and coffee. The behaviour of households over the last ten years has changed dramatically due to greater consumption of a range of products.  Product selection impacts our waste water and our waterways.  Ironically, the fact we now understand how precious water is, maybe simply because it costs more, means we have shorter showers, turn off the tap sooner, and divert grey water in some cases. This actually leads to higher concentrations of toxins entering STPs (treatment systems).  Micro plastics are being found in large waterways around the world.  Take Lake Erie for example had the highest density, averaging somewhere around 80,000 particles of microplastic per km2.  Micro-plastic particles, defined here as particles of less than 5mm in size, can arise through four separate processes:deterioration of larger plastic fragments;direct release of micro particles into waterways and via wastewater treatment;accidental loss of industrial raw materials during transport or trans-shipment, at sea or into surface waterways;discharge of http://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/pqrs/sewage.htm.  
No matter how you look at it, pouring plastic down the drain is a very very bad idea, and simply doesn’t need to happen at all. By the way don’t forget caffeine is also a contaminant that finds it’s way into streams and rivers.  Tipping coffee grounds on the garden is much better!

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Anonymous You  used to know the truth: water treatment safely removes all non-water products (including germs).

Now, you accept a concept of lies by a “dirt person” who obviously has never read a wikipedia article on how water is processed

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Burbanmom This blog is not research. This blog is re-puked information from other non-researchers.

If it was researched the author would never have “written” it because she would know that 1) any thing not water is filtered out at water treatment plants and 2) if it werent, we’d have a lot more disease floating around in lakes and streams.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Fake Plastic Fish in a landfill – the water is not sewage treated.

down the drain the filters catch everything that is not water.  (Yep, even germs.)

Don’t believe the hype.  Use your brain.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@christyb Oh geez.  Here’s an idea:  use your product. Then up cycle the bottle?

So naive.  Cute.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Allie internet is so revolting and unnecessary, i see you are still using it though?

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@anonymous Isnt throwing an entire bottle of undiluted soap with beads just as bad  – if not worse because it cant biodegrade?

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Him Your computer is plastic.  Everyone freak out!

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

Joy Gallary If that was fact  – it is not –  then germs, disease, and viruses would be spreading through showers.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Beth Terry Aparently you’ve never heard of this awesome novel idea called “recycling”.

So, no they don’t “end up in the environment”.  They end up in carpet.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Joy Gallary If they are to tiny for the filters, then explain why disease isn’t more rampant due to water?

Derp.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@Mart Thank you! finally someone with some sense!

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

teaandolive your naivete is showing – the water must be processed at a treatment facility REMOVING ALL POLLUTANTS  (be it paper, urine, faeces, and yes…even plastic) from the water before it reaches the “environment”.   septic tanks with field lines do the same thing.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

@rachel no – bees make wax.

Guest
BristolDavidson
1 year 2 days ago

So apparently you think your disease ridden water is being directly flushed in to streams and oceans? You’re naivete to the subject at hand is cute.

All gray water in city areas goes to sewage processing plants that filters anything other than water out of our water.

If you live in the middle of nowhere, the septic tank does the same thing.

Guest
elmcclell
1 year 12 days ago

@anonymous This makes it sound like it’s not a plastic: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700123/ACRYLATES_COPOLYMER/

Guest
KarynBragman
1 year 24 days ago

It is listed at polyethylene or PE. it is also in a lot of crest toothpastes and as a dental hygienist I am finding it embedded in patients gums – I automatically recommend that they switch!

Guest
anonymous
1 year 1 month ago

@Fake Plastic Fish acrylates copolymer isn’t plastic? my bottle of softsoap with moisture beads has that in it and I am disappointed to think that I need to throw it out.

Guest
anonymous
1 year 1 month ago

@GuamGal, @Fake Plastic Fish my bottle of softsoap with moisture beads includes the ingredient “acrylates copolymer”… isn’t that plastic?

Guest
rachel
1 year 2 months ago

I have an aveeno face scrub with particles labeled microcrystalline wax. Is that the same thing?

Guest
teaandolive
1 year 4 months ago

The issue isn’t whether it is good or bad for your skin, people. The issue is that it is bad for the environment. Period.

Guest
Mart
2 years 1 month ago

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.

Guest

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Guest
4 years 1 month ago

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

Guest
4 years 5 months ago

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

Guest
Joy Gallary
2 years 6 months ago

no.  They are too tiny for the filters see SAVE OUR SEAS on pollution threats http://saveourseas.com/threats/pollution

Guest

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Guest
carlamoffatt
6 years 2 months ago

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

Guest
tranquil
6 years 11 months ago

Hi, just found your blog from a permaculture forum.

http://www.ewg.org maintains a very useful database of known toxins in cosmetics and bath products:

http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com

Guest
Anonymous
7 years 5 days ago

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 blog
Sue Jones

Guest
Him
7 years 1 month ago

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.

Guest
Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 2 months ago

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.html

Beth

Guest
GuamGal
7 years 2 months ago

I bought some Softsoap bodywash with moisture beads.

http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid=165899&catid=64337

The 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.

Guest
Allie
7 years 3 months ago

This is revolting! It’s so unnecessary!

Guest
Anonymous
7 years 4 months ago

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

Guest
christyb
7 years 6 months ago

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?!

Guest
Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 6 months ago

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.

Guest
Anonymous
7 years 6 months ago

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!

Guest
Fake Plastic Fish
7 years 6 months ago

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?

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The Green Cat
7 years 6 months ago

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.

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Burbanmom
7 years 6 months ago

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!

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Anonymous
7 years 6 months ago

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?

Guest
Hillary
7 years 9 months ago

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.

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Annie M
8 years 20 days ago

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.

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heather t
8 years 1 month ago

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.

Guest
axelle
8 years 1 month ago

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.

Guest
terrible person
8 years 1 month ago

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!

Guest
Sunny
8 years 1 month ago

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.