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How A Ban On Tiny Bits Of Plastic Could Affect Your Beauty Routine

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“At some point, I think that in a few years we’ll look back and think, What were we even doing putting plastics in cosmetics?!”

You’d be forgiven for not realising, but tiny pieces of plastic are used in some cosmetics and personal care products.

You’d be forgiven for not realising, but tiny pieces of plastic are used in some cosmetics and personal care products.

Tiny, spherical bits of plastic that are added to beauty products, especially scrubs and exfoliants, are called “microbeads”. They’re mainly used as an abrasive, replacing natural materials like ground walnut shells, and are a subset of “microplastics” – pieces of plastic so small you almost need a microscope to see them.

It’s not just exfoliating products that contain microbeads – they’re found in sunscreens and toothpastes too, as well as some make-up items.

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“They’re literally designed to be washed down the drain, but they’re so small it’s hard to pick them out of the sewage system,” Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Imperial College London told BuzzFeed News. So they end up in our oceans and waterways.

“They’re so small you can’t even really see them in the water anymore, but those are the plastics that do the most harm to marine animals,” says Van Sebille. “At some point, I think that in a few years we’ll look back and think, What were we even doing putting plastics in cosmetics?!

They’ve been banned in the US but are still in use in some products across the UK and Europe.

As of December last year, the US passed a law banning microbeads and is phasing them out in “rinse off” products like body washes (as opposed to “leave on” products like makeup and sunscreen) over the next few years.

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Earlier this year the environmental audit committee launched an inquiry into the environmental impact of microplastics, and in June environment minister George Eustice said the UK “fully backs” a microbead ban and would try to push one through the EU.

Following the EU referendum, a DEFRA spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the UK will continue to support international action to ban the use of microbeads.


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