Are you scrubbing with plastic microbeads?
Holy cow! Who thought THIS was a good idea?! Large corporate manufacturers of body care products are adding teeny tiny plastic beads to their products as abrasives or exfoliants. Because profits, of course. Now we're finding out it's not only a health hazard, but an environmental nightmare too. Um, duh.
Apparently there are thousands of body care products around the world that now contain plastic micro beads as abrasives for scrubbing yourself free of whatnots. Toothpastes like Crest Pro-Health and Crest 3D White have these little blue dots that 1) are getting embedded in people's gums, but more importantly 2) are so small that they don't get filtered out of water treatment plants and are ending up in our lakes and oceans, polluting our waters, and killing our fish - throughout the entire food chain.
Neutrogena, Clinique, Aveeno, Nivea, Clearasil, Proactive - even The Body Shop (!) are using these micro beads in their facial products as scrubbing bits too. (There's a great list here of all the ones to avoid.) Axe Men's body scrubs have them also. The beads, made of polyethylene, are cheaper than natural ingredients, like apricot kernels, seeds, coconut husks, etc. So the large manufacturers - Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, Unilever - are putting the plastic stuff in our products instead.
What it's doing to us
There is now a worldwide movement to boycott, ban, or remove the microbeads from products (BeatTheMicrobead.org). It started with concerns about human health, getting attention with articles describing how dental hygienists were finding the tiny blue beads in people's mouths on a daily basis, even embedded in gums. Dentists are worried that these bits trap bacteria and can cause gingivitis. While the toothpaste manufacturers continue to claim they are safe, most of them have also pledged to remove the plastic ingredients in the next year or two.
Other worries are about the effects these plastics have on humans when eaten. At the top of the food chain, if what we eat has already eaten these little gizmos, then we are adding them to our own diet. Many of those plastics are hormone disrupters, adding an unhealthy dose of estrogen-mimicking chemicals to our fish & chips. Another fun fact - the surface of these micro plastics has been proven to attract and absorb pollutants such PCBs and DDT from the marine environment. So both the fish and us are eating even more gunk.
What it's doing to the environment
Microbeads are so small that they aren't caught by most water treatment plants, so they wind up in lakes, streams, and oceans. One report claims 19 tons of microbeads are unleashed into the New York state's waterways each year. At that rate, the entire US would be dumping 300 tons per year in US waterways.
The beads, which often look like fish eggs, are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and other marine animals. The plastic also acts as a sponge for toxins, soaking up pesticides, phthalates, and heavy metals and carrying them through the food chain. Even tuna and swordfish are turning up with microbeads in their stomachs. Microbeads are not biodegradable and once they enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove. Plastic soup, ahoy!
Do your products contain microbeads?
There are comprehensive lists online for all the products which contain these beads, and "Beat The Microbead" has one of the best (check here.) But you can look at the labels of your products too. The most common ingredient to look for is polyethylene (not the same as polyethylene glycol) Other ingredients to watch out for -- polypropylene, poly-e-terephthalate, and polymethyl methacrylate.
What is anybody doing about it?
With all eyes on the cosmetic companies, several large manufacturers are in the process of removing the microbeads from their products or pledging to phase them out over the next year or two. Boycotts and protests are happening all over. And several states, California being the latest, are looking into banning them altogether.
If you're anything like me, you're disgusted by now. It's so darn hard to keep up with all the latest news about the crap they keep shoveling on us. Who has the time to read each and every label at the grocery store when you've got 10 minutes to shop? My easy peasy rule - just stay as far away from all the huge corporate manufacturers of anything. Buy body products made from natural ingredients, stuff you could even eat. And eat food that comes from the ground, or is as close to a natural state as possible. Leave the processed, chemical-ed, preserved, junk on the shelves. Maybe if nobody bought it, then they'd stop making it. Maybe?