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!
How do you dispose of these products if you have them to prevent them going down the drain? Trash?
I think trash is probably the best option. At least they stay in the tube or bottle.
Take all such products to your local Hazardous Materials waste collection center. We have a site here in Santa Barbara that is open on the weekends. Call your trash collection agency and ask where your HazMat collection center is, days and times of collection.
BristolDavidson Wax is also made from plants, especially government-subsidized (=nice and cheap) soy and corn.
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.
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
BristolDavidson something for you doosh bag http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969704001937
BristolDavidson haha you really are a doosh bag
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.
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.
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.
@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!
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.
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.”
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!
@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
@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.
@Beth Terry 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.
@christyb Oh geez. Here’s an idea: use your product. Then up cycle the bottle?
So naive. Cute.
@Allie internet is so revolting and unnecessary, i see you are still using it though?
@anonymous Isnt throwing an entire bottle of undiluted soap with beads just as bad – if not worse because it cant biodegrade?
@Him Your computer is plastic. Everyone freak out!
Joy Gallary If that was fact – it is not – then germs, disease, and viruses would be spreading through showers.
@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.
@Joy Gallary If they are to tiny for the filters, then explain why disease isn’t more rampant due to water?
@Mart Thank you! finally someone with some sense!
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.
@rachel no – bees make wax.
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.
@anonymous This makes it sound like it’s not a plastic: https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/700123/ACRYLATES_COPOLYMER/
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!
@Beth Terry 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.
@GuamGal, @Beth Terry my bottle of softsoap with moisture beads includes the ingredient “acrylates copolymer”… isn’t that plastic?
I have an aveeno face scrub with particles labeled microcrystalline wax. Is that the same thing?
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.
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.
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:
It would be great if you could disseminate it among like-minded people.
Thanks, Jo. I signed and linked on Facebook.
Doesn’t the water treatment facility remove this from the treated water?
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.
no. They are too tiny for the filters.
Don't forget about Dermadoctor KP Duty body scrub. Its exfoliant is polyethylene beads.
Hi, just found your blog from a permaculture forum.
https://www.ewg.org/ maintains a very useful database of known toxins in cosmetics and bath products:
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
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.
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 exfoliating scrubs that feel rough on your skin.
That said, there are some worrisome ingredients in the body wash. 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:
I bought some Softsoap bodywash with moisture beads.
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.
This is revolting! It’s so unnecessary!
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
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?!
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.
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!
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?
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.