Rethinking plastic particles in skincare
Your favorite cleanser may have detrimental effects to the oceans
Last December, United States President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. The new law requires companies to eliminate traces of these miniscule particles from personal care, cleansing, and exfoliating products by July 1, 2017.
When a leader moves to ban these seemingly trivial specks, the matter clearly goes beyond cosmetics; it’s about saving our environment.
The scrubs that cleaned your pores have ended up clogging oceans and rivers, though it’s not the product per se but its microbeads. The colored dots that exfoliate your skin are also the particles that are poisoning fish and blocking waterways when they flow down our drains to sewers.
“Plastic can absorb and concentrate pollutants, and easily transfer them to aquatic organisms,” says Dr. Lorena Rios Mendoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, to The Atlantic. “Some of these pollutants are endocrine disruptors,” she adds, pertaining to the fact that microbeads could affect animals’ reproductive cycles.
Consumers are not exactly to blame. We were convinced that these substances were sloughing off the grime; in fact, they were efficient for a while. They were also cheap to produce, thus companies churned out products quickly without giving people a chance to stop and think where these small polishers go after finishing their job. But if Tina Fey’s Mean Girls taught us anything at all, it’s that anything labeled plastic also means it is toxic.
But we live amid alternatives. While we have to bid adieu to these synthetic bits, companies have employed other biodegradable materials to dig deep into our pores. Rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells, and bamboo work as natural exfoliants—all of which work equally well, if not better, than the banned beads. Now scrub away—and save the earth while you’re at it.