The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 10, 2013

Take Action — No More Plastic Micro-beads in Facial Scrubs!

ClearasilSix 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.

Take Action

Microbead_LogoBack 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.



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Etsy handmade and vintage

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Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator will coffee grinds has colour effect on the skin? I mean whether it will dark the skin.


I read your site with interest, my company is trying to manufacture and market an economical alternative to plastic beads for hand scrubs. It seems quite clear that in the U.K companies are wanting to have analternative. Good luck with the campain


I use a washcloth every night but periodically use an exfoliating scrub with those beads. I love those beads b/c they are not as rough as some “natural” granules, but never gave them a thought – I’ll give them a 2nd thought now.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator

I know what you mean, I was surprised to learn these facial scrubs were laden with plastic as well. Although coffee grinds aren’t as small, they are extremely gentle. Give them a try and let us know what you think.


Hi Beth, there has been some talk about air particulates lately. Is there any science on or studies of plastic particulates in the air? What made the light bulb go on for me is when I crumbled a superthin plastic wrap that just broke into flakes as I was putting it in a bathroom size waste can and as I pushed down it broke apart and blew flakes into my face. I breathed one in; it went right up my nose. I had a hard time breathing; it was l imagine like the effects of volcanic ash, which you can… Read more »

Beth Terry

Hi. I don’t have the answer to this question, but it does warrant some research. Have you started searching yet? Please let me know if you find anything because it’s a good question. I just don’t know if studies have been done.


I used to used to try facial scrubs thinking I “needed” them. My skin is a bit sensitive so now I just use a washcloth. My washcloths are not super fluffy, they work just fine and it is a cheap, non-plastic easy option. Sometimes paring things down works the best.


Years ago Estee Lauder made a scrub called Milk Cleansing Grains, which I loved! When they discontinued it I experimented and made my own that is similar, but simple. I have a tiny bowl and a 1/8 teaspoon measure. I use 1/4 teaspoon dry milk, a scant 1/2 teaspoon corn meal, a dab (about the size of a pea) of baby shampoo (no tears) and enough water to make a nice paste. It works wonders for my skin.


Many years ago Estee Lauder made a wonderful scrub that I loved. When they discontinued it I experimented and made my own that is similar but simple. I use about 1/4 teaspoon of dry milk powder to a scant 1/2 teaspoon of cornmeal, add a tiny dab of baby shampoo (the size of a pea), and enough water to make a nice paste. It works wonders for my skin.

Eve Stavros

I was such a heavy user of micro-bead shower gels and facial cleansers, until I adopted a nearly Plastic Free Life, thanks to Beth. Then I switched to natural goat’s milk & olive oil soaps (made locally) and have found that honey is a great facial cleanser (thank you, Crunchy Betty!). My favorite exfoliator, though, is as follows. Save an avocado pit, cut it up into small pieces and let it dry out in a sunny window. Then grind it up in your spice grinder (or mortar & pestle) into a fine powder. A little mixed w/water on your face… Read more »


what can I do with the leftover shower gel we still have in the house? It’s not much but we really don’t wanna use it and we definitely don’t wanna pour it down the drain.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator

Do you have any kids? Perhaps you can use old shower gel to make a bubble solution. Kids love blowing bubbles!


we don’t have any kids yet. We’re thinking about giving all the stuff to neighbours, but it’s not any better in there house either and they probably just throw it out later and won’t at least recycle….ugh it’s really a catch-22. Specially with those plastic beads in most of the stuff. Thank you for your sweet idea though!


if you do give it to someone who would buy it anyway, it displaces or delays the purchase at the store, therefore at least hitting them in the bottom line! Other than that maybe run the soap through a super fine tea strainer to collect the beads and maybe melt into one glob? Use the soap part and properly dispose of the container. here we have a hazardous waste collection center. Paint, weed killer things that are still usable (unlike light bulbs turned in for the mercury) by the consumer. people who buy it or need little get a deal… Read more »

Beth Terry

I know I’m getting to this late, but my suggestion? Mail it back to the company with a letter explaining why you don’t want it. Letters and petitions are great but actually mailing product back makes a bigger statement. Sure, they will just throw it away. But the positive impact of your letter might outweigh the negative impact of that one bottle.


Great idea!


Thanks for posting this. It’s horrific what industry is putting in our “beauty” products — even products for infants and toddlers (the most vulnerable to toxicity). For a good exfoliator, I use organic cane sugar in johba or other nice organic skin oil like almond oil.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator

I’ll have to try your organic cane sugar facial scrub. I’ve been using a little of the left over coffee grinds from my morning coffee with a mild soap as a facial scrub. Works good for me!

Beth Terry

And I’m lazy and don’t actually use anything at all on my face, which is why that chapter of my book is subtitled, “When lazy = green.” ;-)