Banish Microbeads – avoiding microplastics in cosmetics

I love nature and feel happiest when out exploring and seeing what I can find and photograph.   I’m also a keen gardener and enjoy a good potter around my plants.

This enjoyment and concern means that I also try, where possible, to be considerate in my daily life and try to minimise polluting the environment around me.  We recycle, upcycle and freecycle as much as possible. I try to minimise unnecessary packaging (a real bugbear of mine) and keep our bin as empty as we can. With six of us in the house we rarely fill the small black bin – the house came with two (!) – when the fortnightly rubbish pick up occurs.  But there’s always more to be done.  Maybe one day we’ll manage to be pretty much zero waste (check out My Zero Waste – link listed in credits – for more information on that front).

Obviously I have an interest in plants and an interest in their use in cosmetics.  I try to avoid potentially toxic ingredients in the products I use on my (and my family’s) skin and one addition to many cosmetic products has really worried me.  With headlines such as “Up to 90% of seabirds have plastic in their guts” (link listed in credits), microbeads are causing no end of problems for the environment and the wildlife that inhabit it.

As this infographic (Greenpeace) shows, microbeads are washed down the drain and enter the water cycle, causing major pollution.

I recently came across this excellent explanation by Francesca Morgante (Natrue) of the threat caused by microbeads in cosmetics:

Recently, global attention has been drawn to the use of micro-plastic beads in cosmetic products such as body scrubs, contributing to the devastating environmental impact caused by the accumulating plastic debris in our oceans. In recent months several nations, including the UK, have called for a ban on microbeads. In many cases governments have pledged to bring about change to ban microplastics outright from cosmetics, or for usage to be phased out. Manufacturers now have until the end of 2017 to remove microplastics from their formulations if they are to sell their products in the UK.

So what are microplastic beads (or microbeads)? Why are they used in cosmetics? What environmental damage are they doing?

‘Micro’, meaning small, in this case means less than 5mm in size, and the ‘plastic’ commonly refers to a synthetic polymer like polyethylene. These intentionally added tiny plastics function as miniscule scourers, to exfoliate skin in rinse-off cleansing products like a facial or body scrubs, as well as toothpastes and other cosmetics. Over 680 tonnes of microbeads are used in the UK alone every year. Reports by the UK’s House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee revealed a single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean.

Once they are rinsed down the drain, and eventually into the water treatment system, due to their tiny size they slip through water filtration systems before finally ending up in our waterways and oceans. Here, because they are insoluble in water and non-biodegradable, they accumulate and may be ingested by fish-eating birds, sea mammals, fish and invertebrates in our oceans: polluting and contaminating, and damaging the marine environment.  In fact only this month a new piece of research has revealed that even deep-sea creatures are ingesting microbeads – evidence of microbeads was found in hermit crabs, squat lobsters and sea cucumbers, at depths of between 300m and 1,800m. This is the first time that microplastics have been shown to have been ingested by animals at such depth, and could indicate that the scale of the impact may be wider than first thought.

Although the UK government has recently pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in cosmetics, brands have until the end of 2017 to remove them from the shelf in British stores. What can we do in the meantime to avoid them, particularly if we travel abroad where microbeads may still be in use?

In the often long ingredients declaration printed on pack, in the tiniest of fonts, it can be difficult to spot the pesky microplastics which include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon.

Far simpler is to swop to only using authentically natural and organic products, and ones that are certified to contain no artificial additives, such as brands bearing the NATRUE seal on their products. NATRUE certification prohibits the use of microplastics from its certified cosmetics. That’s over 4,800 products around the world you can choose, from over 200 authentically natural and organic brands you can trust. Products that bear the NATRUE seal will never include microplastics.

So what effective natural alternatives are authentically natural brands using instead? Natural exfoliants permitted by NATRUE could be for example inorganic minerals, like those found naturally in quartz sand, listed as silica or hydrated silica. Or exfoliants made from biodegradable jojoba beads using the ingredient name Hydrogenated Jojoba Oil, or from tiny beeswax pearls (Cera Alba). Or natural abrasives and exfoliants isolated from non-GM plants such as sucrose (from sugar cane). Or seed/shell powders and kernels from apricot (Prunus armeniaca), olive (Olea Europaea), and walnut (Juglans regia). Even salt. So enjoy these alternatives until you can be sure that no cosmetics contain microplastics, and look out for the NATRUE logo – it’s your guarantee.


Why wait till the end of 2017?  That’s a terrifying number of toxic plastic beads entering the water cycle in the meantime! Act now!

Weleda is certified by Natrue, none of their products have ever contained plastic microbeads. As a company environmental sustainability is a key focus, it’s simply part of what Weleda does, not an add on for good PR.  Using Weleda products isn’t just better for your skin, it’s a vote to support a company that places environmental and ethical concerns as central to its being.

As an alternative to using products with microbeads in, perhaps consider using facial and body brushes or even simple muslin cloths?

If you are interested in learning more, please visit my shop or contact me.


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