Ever since the tender age of 13, when my skin began to experience the downside of puberty (hello hormones), I’ve been well-aware of the many skincare products out there that swear to provide you with a blemish-free face. From foaming cleansers to exfoliators, toners to serums, I’ve tried my hand at a plethora of products. But as my hormonal acne seemed to dissipate as I reached my late teens to early twenties, it was only a matter of time before I was being told by beauty experts that regular, gentle exfoliation is the key to ridding my skin of any dark spots, whether they be from scars or sun exposure. Microbeads seemed to be the popular item marketed on the many tube-shaped products I bought over the years. I didn’t have any affection for them necessarily, but they provided me with that light scratching to my face I assumed was doing its dirty work to polish my skin. But if you don’t know about the harms of them, it’s truly time to become aware.
What Are Microbeads?
Microbeads, which are defined as being less than five millimeters in their largest dimension, are tiny plastic balls that, over the years, have replaced biodegradable alternatives like salt crystals and nut shells. Since, simply put, plastic is cheaper and much more cost effective than the other options that are better for our earth, these beads were quickly adopted by many companies, and can now be found in exfoliators, toothpastes, shaving creams, and shower gels. Just one product can come complete with thousands of microbeads, and they can even take up 10 percent of that product’s volume.
Why Are They Bad?
When you spit out your toothpaste or wash off your exfoliator, shaving cream, or shower gel, the minuscule pieces of plastic making up microbeads make their way down your shower or sink drain and into the sewer system, since they are too small to be stopped by the typical filters of sewage treatment plants. They then end up in rivers and canals, then into seas and oceans, and eventually become present in the food chain.
Are They Affecting You?
Plastic microbeads absorb a variety of pollutants including pesticides, motor oil, and flame retardants. In fact, just one microbead can be more than a million times as toxic than the water it is in. Fish that we eat consume these plastic particles, with the toxins making their way into their tissue and then, potentially, our own.
The Ban Is Here, But What Does It Mean?
The evidence that microbeads are environmentally hazardous has been mounting for years, but recently President Obama signed a bill that will ban the sale and distribution of products containing them. The bill, called the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, won’t actually go into effect for a few years, however. This is because companies whose beauty products contain microbeads have until July 1, 2018 to phase them out.
What Can You Do In The Meantime?
It can be hard to simply look at a product and know whether or not it contains microbeads, but once you gain the knowledge of what is what, make sure you avoid them at all costs. It’s helpful to know that The Food And Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that all products containing microbeads include them in their ingredients list. But it’s more than meets the eye with ingredients sometimes, so remember to look for words including: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or polymethyl methacrylate, which are simply just plastic pollution.
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