Sunday, August 04, 2013

I’ve Been Washing My Face with Plastic

In today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article Cleanser beads could affect fish I discovered the exfoliating beads in exfoliating washes, soaps and toothpaste I use include small beads of plastic.

According to the article, in a recent study thousands of these small plastic pieces were discovered in water samples taken from Lake Superior, Lake Huron and Lake Erie. It turns out a single tube of Clean and Clear scrub from Johnson and Johnson contains 330,000 beads. The problem is these plastic beads float and water treatment plants aren’t designed to deal with floating matter. Researchers are worried that fish might think the pellets are eggs and eat them. That's problematic because plastics tend to absorb pollutants, such as PCBs, pesticides and motor oil. So the beads could poison the small fish that larger fish prey on. The larger fish are eaten by humans, which poses a human health risk.

The good news is faced with the results, the major manufacturers, including L'Oreal, the Body Shop and Johnson and Johnson, have committed to phasing out the plastic microbeads by 2015. Proctor and Gamble said it would follow by 2017, according to a story by CBC News in Canada.

I recently was considering removing foods that contain additives from my diet. This challenge was going to focus only on food and food additives, but now that I know there is plastic in my soap I’m also going to pay more attention to what is in my beauty products.

Have you ever been surprised to learn a harmful or unusual additive was included in a product you use? Did this knowledge change your purchasing habits?

Would you like to see additional consumer education posts similar to this one or would you prefer posts about books and/or career related topics?


  1. Whatever happened to ground up apricot pits? They worked just fine (St. Ives) and certainly ought to be better for the fish...

  2. I love the new design of your site! It's gorgeous. Honestly, there are so many bad things in the things we eat and put on our bodies, that I try not to think about it!

  3. Oh my I have never heard of this. My mom always told me to do old school stuff and now I see why. Loving the new design

  4. Anonymous7:40 AM

    I found you on the "Sharefest" linky and I was so glad to see someone writing about this. I think most Americans take it for granted that, if a company is allowed to sell something, it must be reasonably safe for people and the planet but that simply isn't the case at all. My family gave up deodorant about 2 years ago when we learned about the powerful toxins contained in it. Now we use a homemade version that actually works better than the chemical stuff! We started using Ivory soap and homemade laundry detergent too (except for certain items that need a little something extra). The changes in our lives have been gradual but we have found that we've not only had great results but saved money as well.

  5. I've recently found out about the tiny plastic beads and am using them in a neck wrap to help keep my body cool. This use has made my life bearable when it is hot. On the other hand, these beads do not belong in toothpaste, facial products, or other items that can interfere with the environment. Thanks for the post. I've got some work to do. Enjoy Sharefest.

  6. I've had to switch up my entire health routine, both food and health products, because of discoveries such as the ones you wrote about here. There are good natural products out there, although as a rule they tend to be more expensive. My rationale is "I can pay more now, or I can pay more later (in medical bills)!

    It's alarming what's in our products, and the general public as a whole is clueless.

    Thanks for shedding light on what is a growing problem worldwide. Do continue to share this type of information. Much appreciated.

  7. Webb,
    Just for fun I Googled “when did exfoliants stop using apricot pits in favor of plastic” and found the following response from the Body Shop Canada to a similar inquiry

    “This is a wider beauty industry issue and we, like many other global beauty brands, have been forced to use synthetic scrub particles for face products in the last few years as safety restrictions in some markets around the world have become more stringent. These safety restrictions require us to ensure that all scrub particles used on the face are consistently rounded in shape, which is difficult to achieve with natural particles. In order to provide a global product formulation that is stable and safe for use we have, unfortunately, had to resort to synthetic materials such as polyethylene.
    Please note that we are investigating natural, and naturally derived, alternatives to polyethylene but as yet nothing has met our exacting standards for safety, performance and lack of animal testing. We’re on the case!”
    It is also interesting to note could not find anything to back up this claim and sent the following reply:

    We are concerned with this response. I haven’t been able to track down where there is any ‘safety restrictions in some markets around the world’ that require natural alternatives to be substituted for micro-beads. We would like to know the origin of the basis for this response as it’s clear that products containing natural exfoliants are available for sale in every major Asian, North American, South American and European markets.

    The Body Shop did not respond. Why do I think the real answer has something to do with costs and profit margins?

  8. Kita,
    More and more I think the old school stuff was best.

  9. Catherine,
    Thank you. I will be giving Iris of Charming Blog Design a shout out in a future post. She created a much needed new look. I think you're feelings are similar to most - you try not to think about it. I think part of the problem is the claims keep changing. One day eggs are bad for you and the next they are good.

  10. Lazy Hippie Mama,
    I found a post providing recipes for homemade exfoliant here: The recipes look easy plus I currently have all of the ingredients in my home. I think you are on to something – small changes. I’ve always had a passion for calling out scams and fraudulent or misrepresented claims. I think I will continue to post my discoveries only next time include alternatives. Thanks for stopping in today. I can’t wait to check out your site.

  11. Sheila,
    Interesting use. How do you contain the beads? Agree though we need to balance what makes are life more bearable with what interferes with the environment.

  12. Alison,
    Great rule:

    "I can pay more now, or I can pay more later (in medical bills)!

  13. I had no idea about the plastic beads. I always thought they dissolved! Thanks for the heads up. I hope you posts more of these types of posts. As consumers, we should always be aware of what we're using.

  14. I had no idea about the plastic beads. I'm a huge consumer of exfoliation products too! I always thought that the beads were just concentrated soapy product or seeds or something like that.

    This is definitely something good to know. I am always amazed at how little I seem to know about the products I use and consume. It's a tad bit unsettling.

    I would say that I would love for you to have more posts like this informing me!

  15. Jennifer,
    Before reading the article I never thought about what was in the beads. Learning it was plastic was a real shocker for me.