In the modern age, we are bombarded by utilities and commodities from every angle; we often accept their merits without questioning any ulterior motives or eventual consequences of their usage. This is the product of a privileged society in which we have too much choice. One example is within the cosmetic industry; subject to perpetual controversy but in vicious demand by consumers nonetheless, we are guilty of exploiting the range of options we have. Take exfoliating scrubs: 68% of teenagers surveyed about the use of microbeads had no idea what they were… Is this ignorance going to be the death of us?
To provide some context, microbeads are quite simply the little blue/pink/green microspheres in your exfoliating scrubs. Manufacturers will make wild claims about the augmented effectiveness in their own products over other manufacturers, but in actual fact they are all the same in terms of their exfoliating power. If you are still unsure of what actually constitutes a microbead, look on the back of your bottle and isolate the plastic compounds you see. Polyethylene is one such culprit, along with polypropylene and polystyrene. Be careful though; it is not only facial scrubs that use microbeads. They are also found in toothpastes and other abrasive cleaners.
Plastic, in terms of its environmental impacts is, more often than not, bad news. The build up of plastics is called toxic bioaccumulation and is a form of plastic particle water pollution, which can have jarring short-term and long-term effects on marine flora and fauna, as well as disrupting several food chains and thus will eventually, reach us. At this point I implore you: if you find it difficult to care about species other than your own, you would at the very least be doing yourself a favour by actively helping to eradicate the use of microbeads. As the microbeads cannot reduce down or be filtered, they persist in the oceans when flushed down our sinks and are mistakenly eaten by vulnerable animals. In large quantities, this is toxic to animals, including us. You might have already heard of toxic mercury accumulation in salmon; this is of the same vein.
One of the most ridiculous things about this issue is that it is completely, unanimously, a non-issue. Two thirds of respondents to a survey agreed that microbeads are bad and that they should be banned. There is no sizeable majority that objects to their eradication; there is no debate. It has even been proven that plastic microbeads have no proven benefit over natural alternatives. Despite this, microbead distribution has managed to manifest into something previously unprecedented due to sheer ignorance. Now it has become a problem, and we must take action against it having a further hold.
Last year, Barack Obama signed the agreement for a ban on microplastic production in the United States, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. Canada also imposed a ban on microplastics in May of 2015, and the Netherlands aim to have eradicated microbeads completely from all cosmetics by the end of this calendar year (2016). Multiple cosmetic companies have responded to this outrage by pledging to remove microbeads from their products, including Unilever, L’Oréal, Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, and Johnson & Johnson.
Natural alternatives to microbeads which have an equal ability to exfoliate include sugars, salts and shell granules. You can use the age-old technique of sugar, honey and lemon juice, or if you would rather buy something pre-bottled, opt for companies that use walnut shell granules. For years now, I can credit St. Ives and Superdrug own brand for sticking to walnut shell granules in their scrubs, which have never faltered in their effectiveness. Furthermore, Lush, The Body Shop and Boots own brand, amongst others, do not use microbeads.
For a comprehensive list of brands who do not use microbeads in their products and also for further information, visit: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/