New York is poised to become the first state to ban plastic microbeads, which are tiny plastic spheres commonly found in facial scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and other personal-care products. In a single tube of scrub, there may be as many as 350,000 beads. Microbeads end up polluting our waterways and the Great Lakes, where they become coated with PCBs and other toxins. Up to 600 species of animals—turtles, birds and fish—mistake them for food. If we eat those fish, we will have microbeads on our menu, too.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman introduced legislation this week called the Microbead-Free Waters Act, to ban the sale of products that contain microbeads. They have been found in extremely high levels in New York’s Lake Erie. (They have also been found in the Pacific Ocean and the Los Angeles River.) Microbeads take centuries to biodegrade, and are almost impossible to clean up since they are small enough to pass right through wastewater treatment plants.
Johnson & Johnson and P&G have agreed to phase out microbeads, though it will take several years. Products with “polyethylene” or “polypropylene” on the label contain microbeads, and it is easy to find natural alternatives made from pulverized nut or peach shells.
Beauty Note About Those Scrubs
Over the past few years, consumers have been told that microbeads are preferable to organic materials like walnut shells or peach pits because they have perfectly rounded edges, which the others don’t, and therefore won’t introduce tiny tears into the skin. The truth is, it all depends on how you apply the scrub. If you gently press it into the skin instead of rubbing or grinding it in, you’ll be fine.
Take a few extra seconds to be gentle to your skin, without using microbeads. And the turtles, fish, birds and your fellow humans will thank you!