If you rely on microbeads to buff your skin to glowing perfection, it might be time to start searching for a new way to exfoliate. A bill currently working its way through the legislative systems in four states could ban plastic microbeads in personal care products, in hopes of saving the environment from their destruction.
If passed, the proposed bill, called the Microbead-Free Waters Act, “would prohibit the manufacture, distribution and sale of personal cosmetic products which contain microbeads,” according to the New York State Attorney General website. 5Gyres, an environmental organization that studies gyres—which are basically swirling vortexes in oceans where garbage collects—worked with the Attorney General’s office to draft the bill, and also proposed the same piece of legislature in California, Minnesota and Illinois, explains Stiv J. Wilson, Policy Director at the 5Gyres Institute. They decided on this approach after a corporate campaign to convince big corporations to stop producing these products wasn’t very successful.
The evidence that microbeads are bad news? A study published in December 2013 by 5Gyres and SUNY Fredonia revealed alarmingly high concentrations of small plastic particles polluting the Great Lakes. “As we looked for the source, we recognized that they were coming from personal care products,” Wilson says, “because sewage treatment isn’t designed to filter out things that small.”
Wilson notes that by passing a ban in a few key states, like New York and California, brands would be forced to phase out entire product lines. “The plan was to go for some really key states in the U.S., and what it’ll in effect do is create a very big distribution problem for these producers,” he says.
Wilson expects to know by June whether the bans pass. So far, there’s a lot of bipartisan support in both New York and California, giving him hope that they will.
Which means now’s the time to start figuring out how your skincare routine fits into this whole equation. Microbeads are helpful in sloughing off dead skin gently—the plastic is smooth, which reduces your chance of creating microcuts in the skin, explains Ni’Kita Wilson, YouBeauty Cosmetic Chemistry Expert. But you’ve got options, people. “Within the past decade there are more natural alternatives that can do the same thing,” she notes. Here’s how to shop smart to protect both the environment and your skin.
What to avoid
If the product contains polyethylene or polypropylene, it’s an offender. Still not sure? 5Gyres’s free app, Beat the Microbead, is a great shopping assistant. Simply scan the barcode and the app will tell you if it has microbeads and if the company has agreed to phase them out or not.
What to look for
There are plenty of products out there already that exfoliate without plastic microbeads. Acure Organics, Burt’s Bees and St. Ives all contain biodegradable alternatives, such as walnut shells. Try Jurlique Body Exfoliating Gel and St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub (which, somewhat surprisingly, uses walnut and corn kernels, not apricot pits, as scrubbers).Ingredients such as hydrogenated castor oil, rice bran wax, jojoba esters or carnauba wax beads are all effective and environmentally friendly exfoliators as well, says YouBeauty’s Wilson. A few to try: John Masters Organics Jojoba & Ginseng Exfoliating Face Cleanser and Burt’s Bees Brightening Daily Facial Cleanser. Any natural sugar body scrub (we love Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish) does a great job, too.
If you still want that microbead feel, try a product like Nuance Salma Hayek Age Affirm Glycolic Cream Cleanser, which contains microbeads made from 100 percent polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from plant sugars, explains John McCue, Director of Store Brands at CVS/pharmacy. “Since these microbeads are biodegradable and made of 100 percent bio-based ingredients, as a single raw material, they can be cleanly composted, recycled or disposed without disrupting the environment,” he adds.
Switching to products like this that are mutually beneficial for your skin and the environment will be key if the ban is passed, but it’s never too soon to play an active role in keeping our planet beautiful with a more environmentally friendly cleansing routine.