Your personal care products could be contributing to an increase of plastic pollution in the environment.

We’ve all seen the advertisements for facial washes and body scrubs that have “gentle microbeads that smooth away roughness without over-drying or irritating your skin” (*cough* Neutrogena *cough*). It sounds great and all, but those face-smoothing microbeads are anything but gentle.

The beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene micro-plastic particles. With a diameter of approximately .5mm, the beads can easily travel through sink drains and filtration systems, quickly working their way into local waterways. Once in a body of water, the plastics soak up pollutants such as pesticides, hydrocarbons, and other industrial chemicals from the surrounding air and water. While that may sound great, the now chemically-soaked micro-plastics (whose rounded shape resembles tasty fish eggs) are consumed by fish and aquatic reptiles. These beads have also been discovered in the digestive and circulatory systems of mussels and worms. The beads continue on their journey through food webs, impacting every species along the way—including humans.

In 2012, 5 Gyres—an organization who aims to reduce plastic pollution—took water and sediment samples from the Great Lakes. They discovered that these microbeads could be found in numbers of more than 107,500 particles per square mile. Add that number to the amount of particles found in aquatic organisms and you’re looking at a minefield of toxins. Brief note: One tube of Neutrogena’s “Deep Clean” contains an estimated 360,000 microbeads. Let that sink in for a second.

Recently, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill that would call for a ban of microbead-containing products. By 2018, companies will have to stop producing these products, and any product containing beads can no longer be sold by the end of 2019. A similar bill is currently being reviewed in California, showing proof of progress in the ban of microbeads. Though progress is occurring, it is important to note that plenty of damage can be done in Illinois alone before the products are banned. More and more companies are adding microbeads to their face cleansers, body scrubs, and even toothpastes as a result of a consumer’s desire for “icy blue microbeads” that “exfoliate and clean deep down to pores!”

The best way to reduce the amount of microplastics in waterways is to simply cease purchasing products that contain microbeads. BeattheMicroBead.org has provided a frequently updated list of products containing microbeads. For those of you who cannot give up your beady exfoliants, there are products out there that use sands and organic materials (such as plant wax) for the same deep-cleansing and face-smoothing purpose. This is the simplest way to help the environment without even having to change your personal care routines! Please help, and visit the links below for more information.

Photograph and information from: The Atlantic

Information from: 5Gyres

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