By Sarah Tyrrell
Boyle Public Health
Almost two years ago Congress passed a bill known as the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 amending the FDA “to ban rinse-off cosmetics that contain intentionally-added plastic microbeads beginning on January 1, 2018, and to ban manufacturing of these cosmetics beginning on July 1, 2017.”
Most of us are familiar with these microbeads. They exist in many of our favorite scrubs, facial cleansers and toothpastes. They aid in exfoliation, add sparkle to toothpaste and can help fill wrinkles in some “age defying” makeup.
A 2015 study estimated that nationwide 8 billion microbeads are emitted into aquatic ecosystems everyday. While they may be small, as defined as being less than 5 millimeters at their greatest dimension, the quantities released into the environment are devastatingly large. They are so small that they slip through our filtration processes where they enter our rivers, lakes and oceans. These microbeads absorb pollutants, such as pesticides and motor oil. Mistaken for food, they are eaten by marine life and can physically cause damages such as cellular necrosis or lacerations to the digestion track, according to a statement released by Society for Conservation Biology in 2015.
However, what is potentially more concerning is the chemical harm that can be done to animals. With microbeads being composed of complex chemical mixtures, the consumption of these 'cocktails' can lead to an accumulation of chemicals overtime, which can bring on liver toxicity and disrupt the endocrine system.
Although phasing microbeads out of these products is a huge step, the bill only pertains to “rinse-off” products, leaving plastic abrasives in deodorants, lotions and some makeup. Additionally, companies selling over the counter products containing microbeads have a one-year extension to phase out these products or change the ingredients.
Until July 1, 2018 it is in the hands of consumers to choose whether they opt for or away from the products containing microbeads. With these chemicals sometimes being difficult to spot with just a glance, the FDA mandated ingredient labels help expose products that contain plastic. If you spot polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or polymethyl methacrylate it’s safe to say that product contains plastic.
Likewise there are so many better alternatives to choose from that provide exfoliation without the use of plastic. Top rated exfoliants have been rated by the Environmental Working Group in their cosmetic database, an amazing tool to explore healthier cosmetics. There are also several natural, DIY exfoliant recipes available online which are easy to make with typical household and kitchen ingredients.