Many of us love beauty and skincare – it’s a little affordable treat that makes you feel like you’re looking after yourself amidst the stresses and strains of modern life. You’re ethically and environmentally conscious so you make sure that the ingredients are organic, that there aren’t any parabens and the products weren’t tested on animals (obviously). And you’ll recycle the plastic bottle at the end. Your environmentally conscious halo is gleaming. Or is it?

You couldn’t be blamed for not even thinking of checking for microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic are found in a range of products, from toothpaste to face scrub and even some makeup, and are so small as to be inconsequential, or so you’d think. However, it’s their size that is the problem – they’re so small that they sail through water filter systems and end up in rivers, lakes and seas, where water life, including the fish that we eat, think they are food and eat them, causing a multitude of problems including poisoning, growth stunting and starvation. What’s more, they’re often not even named as ‘microbeads’ in the ingredients list, but with complicated scientific names that blend in with the other chemical names.

Governments are starting to wake up to the problem; following in the US and Canada’s

footsteps, the UK government passed a law at the beginning of this year banning the sale of ‘rinse-off’ beauty products containing microplastics by the end of 2017. Many major vendors and manufacturers of beauty products, such as Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Unilever (which owns Dove as well as other well-known brands) have commendably already phased out these plastics, but others such as Tesco will not have done so until the legislation comes into effect at the end of the year.
 

It could, however, be argued that this ban doesn’t extend far enough. As Greenpeace’s

oceans campaign Louise Edge remarked, ‘marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic

from a facewash and plastic from a washing detergent, so it makes no sense for this ban to be limited to some products and not others, as is currently proposed’. Additionally, many cosmetic items don’t classify as ‘rinse-off’ but are still washed down the sink when removed e.g. foundation. While a total ban, extending to all household products, is ‘explored’ by the government it falls, as is so often the case, to you, the conscientious consumer, to take action by keeping an eye out for the offending plastics, using sustainable alternatives and even campaigning for their total ban. Below we’ve listed some of the ways in which microbeads are named in ingredients lists to help you avoid them, and some alternatives so you can keep your skin smooth and your body and home clean.
 

Ingredients to watch out for:

- Polyethylene (PE)

- Polypropylene (PP)

- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)

- Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)

- Nylon

Beat the Bead’s clever app helps consumers to make the right choices when they are out

and about.

Natural alternatives:

- Jojoba beads

- Apricot kernals

- Ground nutshells

- Salt

- Sand (this writer uses Lush’s Life’s a Beach body scrub which smells delicious)

- Sugar mixed with olive oil is very effective as a scrub and moisturiser, and is entirely

natural.

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