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Use Exfoliating Products? Just Make Sure You’re Aware of This



Many exfoliating products, such as body scrubs, face washes and brightening toothpastes, contain microbeads, which are seemingly harmless tiny balls of plastic. While they slough off dead skin cells, their beauty advantage comes at a high price to the environment and our health. They are polluting the waterways and our food supply that comes from the sea.

After a campaign by marine conservationists, Cosmetics Europe has advised the 4,000 companies it represents to stop using microbeads by 2020. “Microbeads are too small to be filtered out during sewage treatment and invariably flow out to sea, becoming a direct source of pollution,” says Dilyana Mihaylova of conservation organization Fauna & Flora International. “This is a problem because they don’t biodegrade and can pose a serious threat to animals, which can easily mistake them for food.” The animals affected include fish and other creatures inhabiting bodies of water, along with seabirds.

Effects on Marine Wildlife and People

“Because plastic is made from oil, it absorbs any toxic pollution in the water,” says Stiv Wilson, director of environmental group The Story of Stuff Project “Some tests have shown microbeads to be up to a million times more toxic than the surrounding water.” Some parts of this chemical cocktail are linked to cancer and have adverse effects on the immune system, nervous system and endocrine system in animals. The impact can be serious, as it can change the sex of a creature from male to female, adds Wilson.

Moreover, when the microbeads are ingested, chemicals like BPA that manufacturers add to the plastic to increase its durability leach out into the body of the creature — as well as the person who eats the creature. These components of plastic have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and other ills.

Since people eat fish and seafood, the pollution of the sea is a threat to our food safety and health. “One big fish will eat 10,000 little fish, and then a human eats the big fish,” explains Wilson. “There’s potential for lots of toxins to be contained within that.” According to a report by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection, people who eat a lot of seafood could be ingesting more than 10,000 microbeads each year. Scientists don’t know the effect of microbeads on human health, but one study indicates they could have harmful effects on body tissues.

How to Avoid Products Containing Microbeads

Certain companies, such as Tesco, Johnson & Johnson, Elizabeth Arden and Marks & Spencer plan to phase out microbeads in their products within the next year or two. L’Occitane says some of the products they make contain apricot kernel powder or crushed almond shells instead of microbeads, and they have decided to remove the plastic from their few products that have it. Sainsbury’s, Op-op and Waitrose say they don’t carry products made with the beads.

Concerned environmental groups are calling on consumers to boycott products with microbeads. To avoid them, read labels before you purchase personal care items. Products containing this plastic will list polypropylene, polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, polyethylene terephthalate, polytetrafluoroethylene or nylon as one of the top ingredients.

Natural Exfoliating Alternative

You can avoid the microbeads and other chemicals in commercial products by making your own exfoliators at home. Make a paste by combining sea salt, oatmeal or sugar with olive oil. Apply it to your skin and scrub in a circular motion. Rinse off the paste, and cleanse your skin in the usual way.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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