Six years ago, I posted a rant about the fact that many commercial facial scrubs contain tiny plastic (polyethylene) beads meant to exfoliate the skin. These beads are too small for water treatment plants to filter out, so they end up in our waterways and eventually the ocean. In the ocean, tiny plastic pieces mix with the zooplankton to enter the food chain. What’s more, plastic in the ocean acts as a sponge, absorbing and concentrating toxic chemicals. It’s one thing when plastic ends up there inadvertently, but it’s inexcusable for companies to produce plastic products intentionally meant to be flushed down the drain.
Now, it turns out, plastic particles aren’t just in facial scrubs, and they aren’t only made of polyethylene. According to a recent position paper (PDF) (PDF) published this year by a coalition of ocean advocacy groups lead by 5Gyres:
Microplastic particles and microbeads can be found in facial scrubs, shampoos & soaps, toothpaste, eyeliners, lip gloss, deodorant and sunblock sticks. These micro particles are made of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. PE and PP are the most common.
The paper is really informative. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
Back when I wrote my original article, my main intention was to let people know which scrubs contained plastic and which ones didn’t, so readers of the post could make informed choices. I wanted people to stop buying this stuff. But now, 5Gyres has spearheaded a campaign to urge companies to stop adding microplastics to their products, and they are succeeding! Several companies have already committed to removing these ingredients and are looking for safer alternatives. But there are still others who have not yet signed on. Please visit the Beat the Micro Bead Campaign page for more information and to take action.
If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your face
I could do more research (like I did 6 years ago) to find out what current products use natural exfoliants and list them here. But it would be pointless because this blog is about avoiding plastic, and all those products, natural or not, come packaged in plastic tubes and containers. They also contain a crap load of other toxic ingredients. And it’s really easy (and often less expensive) to make our own!
In the interest of saving time, I’ll just copy and paste from the personal care chapter of my book, Plastic-Free:
Make Your Own Scrubs and Facial Products. Plain baking soda is a great exfoliant/facial cleanser. It’s probably the cheapest and simplest as well (aside from plain water). Just make a paste in your hand with a little water and scrub away. Other ingredients for skin cleansers are sea salt, oatmeal, finely ground almonds, flax seed meal, ground lentils, brown rice flour, coffee grounds, citrus fruit peels and mashed fruits, honey, and sugar, most of which you can probably find in bulk. Search the Internet for recipes using these ingredients. Or get a copy of the book Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold-Bond (Three Rivers Press), which contains a wealth of ideas for DIY personal care products without toxic chemicals. (Plastic-Free page 221)
My favorite website for natural personal care recipes is Crunchy Betty (whose tagline is “You Have Food on Your Face”). Do a search for “exfoliate” and “scrub” and you will find a treasure trove of stuff to slather and scrub on your face, most of which is already in your kitchen. The only reason I didn’t mention her site in the above paragraph is that I already raved about Crunchy Betty in another section of the book.
Change Requires Personal Choice Plus Action
As Annie Leonard says, “Conscious consumerism is a great place to start, but it’s a lousy place to stop.” So please take a minute to sign on to the campaign to urge companies to remove microplastics from their products and then share with your networks. A few of us eschewing products with plastic is not enough to stop the influx of microplastics into our waterways. After all, not every shopper is as conscious as you are. We need these companies to stop putting these materials in their products in the first place.