The Move to Ban Microbeads

Written by: Sam Hancock & Naomi Lai

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Personal hygiene is a multi-billion-dollar industry in North America. The global skin care market was worth an estimated $121 billion in 2016, and is expected to reach $175 billion by 2021. Manufacturers of body wash, lotion, toothpaste, acne care, and other beauty products keep creating newer and better products meant to keep us looking and feeling our best.

In 1972, microbeads were introduced and immediately praised for their exfoliating properties. Over the years they were added to hundreds of products and loved by consumers.

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny bits of polyethylene plastic. They are able to absorb large quantities of toxins, and their spherical shape makes them gentler on skin than other exfoliants. They can be found in all sorts of products from face wash to foot scrubs.

However, times have changed and microbeads aren’t exactly great for the environment. In fact, some countries including Canada, USA, UK and Ireland have pledged to ban the sale of all microbead-containing products within the coming year.

Why Ban Microbeads?

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1.7 million plastic particles per square kilometer were recently found in Lake Erie. This is a dangerously high level, especially for particles that are not going to break down any time soon.

Thousands of marine species have been ingesting these microbeads, and the toxins they absorb move through the food chain, not only effecting the aquatic eco system but humans too.

When you wash product containing microbeads down the drain, they are sent through water treatment facilities, where they don’t break down, and then find their way downstream into rivers and lakes. The great lakes region of Canada and the United States has been of significant concern, as the concentration of microbeads has resulted in very high plastic particle water pollution. Greenpeace has referred to these particles as a toxic time bomb.

What is Anyone Doing About It?

The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (USA) aims to phase out the use of microbeads in rinse off cosmetics by July 2017. Similarly, the Canadian government will put a moratorium on both the manufacturing and importing of products containing microbeads, and outlawing the sale of them effective mid-2018. Canada has already added microbeads to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as a toxic substance. Additionally, most Canadian manufacturers have already committed to voluntarily phasing them out of their products.

What can YOU do about microbeads?

What about the cleansing benefits that will be lost with the extinction of microbeads?

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Don’t worry! A great number of alternatives exist, and they're just as capable of keeping your skin soft while being softer on the environment, too. Products rich in fruit enzymes and slight acids (like apricot and papaya) are great substitutions, and they’re easy to find! There are many companies that offer 100% natural exfoliants that can be found at your local drug store. You can check out reviews for natural exfoliant products here.

Additionally, products high in Vitamin C are known to be skin brighteners and produce collagen, which make them a multifaceted option. Lesser known substitutes include Rhassoul mud and rice flour for the body, which are 100% biodegradable and possess scrubbing qualities needed for proper exfoliation. Or, get creative and try making your own!

Using natural products and saying no to microbeads doesn’t just benefit the environment, it benefits your skin, too.