Microbeads: The damage, why they don't work and what to use instead
Molly Waring-Moore • January 16, 2018
The recent ban on microbeads was a huge success, but why were they so bad in the first place and what can you now use instead?
Microbeads are mostly used in skincare for exfoliation. They’re tiny little beads of plastic that are supposed to remove dead skin cells. You’ll typically find them in exfoliators, face washes and toothpaste.
After you’ve used the product, you simply wash it off and down the drain it goes, along with the microbeads.
Do they actually work?
Perhaps not. They feel slightly abrasive on the skin, which makes it seem as though they really are exfoliating and doing some good. However, Sali Hughes – Guardian beauty writer, believes that “they’re useless. In practice, it doesn’t scrub skin off as it’s too soft. It either falls off the skin or needs too much pressure to burst.”
Applying too much pressure with these beads is not a good idea and can cause more damage to the skin.
When you consider natural exfoliants like coffee, sugar and salt (more on that later) that actually disintegrates and is beneficial to the skin, you begin to wonder why we’d put plastic on our skin?
The beads essentially come down to aesthetics. The pink grapefruit face wash looks pretty with the pink beads in it. They’re probably not nourishing the skin but they look like they’re doing something good for you.
The bit about waste
We know the story: lots of plastic in the ocean = lots of bad things. But how are these tiny beads doing anything? Well, over 100,000 microbeads can be washed down the drain with a single product use. That’s one person once or twice a day. The beads are so tiny that they get past water filtration systems. This means that they end up in the water and eventually in the food chain.
They’re found inside sea life, which us humans consume so much of. If you’re eating fish, you’re most likely consuming plastic. No matter how ‘ethical’ your fish is, if it once lived in water, it probably contains microplastic.
If you use toothpaste that contains microbeads, you’re swallowing microbeads on a daily basis.
Why is it so bad to consume these tiny pieces of plastic? Well once they’ve got into the sea, they absorb toxins around them. One plastic particle can absorb up to 1,000,000 times more toxic chemicals than the water around it. If they’re surpassing water filtration systems, they’re carrying those toxins with them into supposedly clean water.
Why are natural scrubs better?
When it comes to skincare, you’re looking for genuine fixes. This means that you want products that are actually beneficial and don’t just seem like they’re helping on the surface.
You can find natural scrubs of different intensities and levels of abrasiveness so you don’t need plastic to ‘get the job done.’ There’s a misconception that natural products don’t work as well. I get why it can be easy to think this – I’ve tried some rubbish natural products from companies jumping on the bandwagon but I’ve also found holy grail products.
Natural products are absorbed by the skin but are not toxic. They have natural benefits that don’t upset your skin and body’s balance. Coffee has anti-inflammatory properties; sugar is a natural humectant (draws moisture into the skin), and salt kills acne-causing bacteria.