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Microbeads: Small Yet Dangerous Beauty Product

By Emma Payne Murphy

Personal hygiene and cleanliness are two crucial factors when it comes to taking care of your overall health and wellness. From a young age, we learn about the importance of personal hygiene; therefore it becomes embedded in our own individual routines.  Each and everyday, at one point or another, we wash our hands with soap, brush our teeth with toothpaste and clean our bodies with body scrub, shower gel, shampoo and conditioner. All of these products are, at least in our minds, essential when it comes to maintaining personal hygiene. However, the daily products we use are taking a serious toll on aquatic habitats. Pollution of said habitats has quickly become an overwhelming environmental issue, and it is in our hands to take the measures necessary to develop a permanent solution.

After a process of elimination, scientists have recently discovered that microbeads are used in a large amount of cosmetic and personal care products such as toothpaste, facial cleansers, soaps, body scrubs, makeup and cleaning supplies. Microbeads, small plastic (polyethylene) beads, serve the initial purpose of acting as “abrasive scrubbers,” leaving users with a refreshed, clean and exfoliated feeling. This feeling, more times than not, gives users confirmation of a job well done.  But wait, don’t be too proud of yourself, because these beads are actually doing the planet’s oceans, and the creatures that live in them, a major disservice.  

According to the scientific journal Environmental Science & Technology, microbeads, due to their unique size, are “designed to be discarded down the drain.  Because of their small size… microbeads are littered into the environment…and have become one of the many types of micro-plastic debris reported in aquatic habitats.” Furthermore, due to the size of microbeads, they are quite difficult to clean up. “Because of the difficulty of large-scale cleanup, environmental managers, scientists, and environmentalists have stressed that the best solution to micro-plastic pollution is source reduction,” the journal continued.

In order to stop microbeads from polluting the ocean, and prevent future pollution from happening, people need to reduce the amount of microbeads they use, if not stop using them all together. The easiest and most obvious way to do this would be to stop using products that contain microbeads. A movement to “ban the bead” has been growing since the environmental issue first surfaced. In an Environmental Science & Technology article titled “Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads,” it clearly states that “public support for banning microbeads is growing and has prompted action from multinational companies, NGOs, and policy-makers” This action of multinational companies banning microbeads from their products is a quick solution for stopping further pollution, and the more companies that ban microbeads from their products, the less polluted the ocean will be.

So far, companies such as “Unilever, The Body Shop, IKEA, Target Corporation, L’Oreal, Colgate/Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and Johnson & Johnson pledged to stop using microbeads in their ‘rinse-off personal care products.” All of these companies have established reliable names for themselves, and it is very likely that other companies will follow in their footsteps and take the pledge as well.  To compensate for those companies who continue to use microbeads in their products, it is up to us to stay away from them and choose our personal care products more wisely.  When I am browsing for personal care products, I tend to shop for specific brands like The Body Shop, Aveda, St.Ives, Lush and Burt’s Bees to name a few; however there are many other brands that produce microbead-free products. The easiest way to find brands with microbead-free products is to do research online. If we can help stop pollution now, our marine biological landscape will be much better off in the long run.

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