The Scary Truth About Microbeads

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    If you’re like me, you’re probably always trying new beauty products and regimens in an attempt to get beautifully glowing and healthy skin. And if you love makeup as much as I do, then your face wash is probably tool number one in the fight against acne. However, not all face washes are made equal, and some of these products are actually harming our water ecosystems. How is this even possible? Well, it’s all because of microbeads.

    It’s pretty well known that exfoliating the skin is awesome because it helps remove dead skin cells and free your pores from dirt, oil, makeup, etc. So companies started to include those tiny plastic beads in their products, mostly because it was cheaper to produce than biodegradable exfoliants. It seems harmless enough, but it has actually lead to compromised water quality and damage to the animals that surround these water systems.

    Microbeads are not only found in facewash but a variety of products, like toothpaste, shaving cream, and shower gel. Every time these products are used and subsequently washed down the drain, they flood into our sewer systems. They are so incredibly small that they slip right through filtration systems and end up in our rivers and canals and then into our seas and oceans. These microbeads then end up in our food chain once they’re ingested by the animals that drink or live in these water systems.

    These microbeads can be more than a million times as toxic as the water they reside in because they can absorb pollutants like pesticides or motor oil. Animals consume these microbeads, the pollutants end up in their tissues, and whatever eats them will also absorb those pollutants into their tissues. Microbeads can also become stuck in animals’ intestines and stomachs, causing them to die of starvation or suffer from other serious health problems.

    This sounds pretty terrible, right? So, what’s being done about it?

    This past December, President Obama signed a bill called the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which forces companies who uses microbeads to phase them out by July 1, 2018. This is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately that means that these microbead containing products will remain on the shelves for another two years.

    So, what can you do? First, look at your beauty products, toothpastes, shaving creams, etc. and determine if they have microbeads in them. It might not always say explicitly, so look for words like polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or polymethyl methacrylate.

    If a product contains microbeads, stop using it! Here is a helpful list — compiled by the International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics — to use as a starting point in ridding your cabinet of these harmful products.

    You should opt for products that use natural exfoliants, like ones from St. Ives or Lush Cosmetics. There are plenty of natural and organic options out there, and they feel amazing on your skin. Or, if you are more into DIY beauty products, there are tons of recipes for face scrubs that use natural ingredients, like coffee grounds, sugar, etc. You can also use face sponges to exfoliate and skip the search for biodegradable exfoliants altogether.

    Now that we know how harmful microbeads are to the environment, there is no reason for us to still be knowingly using these products. Since the bill that was passed doesn’t go into action for another two years, it’s the responsibility of consumers to not buy these products and to spread the word to others about how microbeads are affecting our water ecosystems.

    We owe it to our world.

     

     

    A graduate of SUNY Oneonta with a BS in Biology, and a current Master's of Public Health student at the University at Buffalo. Seanna Pratt is an aspiring writer who hopes to find her home someday in a big city. You can often find her writing in coffee shops or at home binge watching her latest TV obsession. Feel free to ask her anything! Contact: seanna@germmagazine.com

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