Bath & Beauty Scrubs: The Hidden Dangers of Microbead Pollution


Microbead Pollution is a Very Real Problem

Scrub a dub, dub…bad?

How can something so innocuous be so bad? The scrubbing agents in many kinds of exfoliating products, whether face scrub, body scrub, foot scrub, even toothpaste, are extremely tiny balls of plastic known as “microbeads”. They are rapidly becoming a major source of pollution in our water supply and a danger to marine life that lives in the oceans. Unlike plastic bags which are highly visible, microbeads aren’t quite as easy to see but they are just as prevalent, if not more so, when the amount of personal care products that contain them are considered.

The Concern over Microbead Pollution is Real

Microbead pollution has become such a concern, that New York is moving to ban them in order to save the Atlantic, Michigan is moving to ban them to save the Great Lakes. Sherri Mason, an associate professor of chemistry at the State University of New York, Fredonia, and her team recently conducted tests for plastic pollution in all of the great lakes. They dragged a fine mesh net in the waters at 30 minute intervals grabbing “anything that’s bigger than a third of a millimeter.” On average Mason’s team found 17,000 bits of tiny plastic items per square kilometer in Lake Michigan – tiny bits of plastic that will never bio-degrade.

Microbeads are the same size as fish eggs so they look like food to any organism in the water. As a result there is concern is that they are making their way into the food web. Microbeads tend to absorb toxins so if fish and other marine life are consuming them these toxins will eventually be passed on to humans. A recent study found that 36.5 percent of fish in the English Channel have plastic within their gastrointestinal tracts so the problem is already very real.


Many personal care brands are well aware of the problem microbeads pose and are working to phase them out. Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal and Colgate-Palmolive have said they will phase out microbeads in the next few years. Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Crest toothpaste, said most of their products will be microbead-free by March 2015, while the rest will be by March 2016. In the meantime, environmentally conscious consumers can read labels and avoid purchasing products that contain the ingredients polyethylene or polypropylene, the plastics used in microbeads. Orgnazitions like 5 Gyres have created an app you can download called “Beat the Microbead” that will specifically tell you which products on the market contain microbeads or you can reference their list here (http://5gyres.org/).

What Can Environmentally Conscious Individuals Do to Help?

Of course, smart eco-aware consumers can also use products or better yet, make their own, that contain natural exfoliants such as salt, sugar, apricot kernels, walnut shells, coffee grounds, cornmeal, and more. The list is endless and the effort is important!

As to the question, “why exfoliate at all?”, regular exfoliation rids the skin of old, dead epidermis cells that the body sloughs off approximately every 3 days as it generates new ones. By using scrubs and scrubbing regularly, you are helping to speed that process along, which sends a signal to the body to produce more collagen, especially in the face. Collagen production is what slows down if not disappears altogether as we age, so regular exfoliation helps keep the skin bright, healthy and glowing. Additionally, rigorous exfoliation on the body increases circulation and prods the body to eliminate metabolic wastes through the lymphs, further cleansing and rejuvenating our entire systems. So scrub a dub, dub…good, and enjoy the benefits of doing it naturally, without plastics.

Here are my favorite homemade scrub recipes to share with you:

Orange Cornmeal Face And Body Scrub

  • Orange Cornmeal Body Scrub

    Orange Cornmeal Body Scrub

    Take 1 small orange or half a large one.

  • Squeeze the juice into a bowl and add 4 – 8 tablespoons of organic cornmeal.
  • Stir to make a moist paste that holds together.
  • Apply onto freshly washed face and/or body and scrub gently for 2 -3 minutes.
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm water and pat dry.


Coco Mint Cleansing Face Scrub

  • Coco Mint Face Scrub

    Coco Mint Face Scrub

    In a microwave, barely melt ½ cup of coconut oil

  • Pour it over 1 ½ cups of organic turbanado raw cane sugar, ½ cup of organic brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of organic cocoa powder that you have mixed together in a medium sized bowl.
  • Mix well and add 5 – 7 drops of peppermint essential oil and mix again.
  • Store in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to 3 months.

To use: scoop a generous handful onto damp, clean face or body and scrub gently with fingertips. Rinse with warm water and pat dry.

(Source: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313157701/why-those-tiny-microbeads-in-soap-may-pose-problem-for-great-lakes)