Microplastics, including plastic glitters banned in Cosmetics

Exfoliating microplastic beads in a cosmetic product
Microplastic beads in exfoliators are now a thing of the past

The EU ban on microplastics, which came into effect on October 17, 2023, will have a significant impact on some cosmetic products. The ban prohibits the sale of cosmetics containing intentionally added microplastics, which are defined as any synthetic polymer particle less than 5 millimetres in size that is insoluble in water.   5 millimetres is about the size of a peppercorn. This includes microbeads, which are small plastic beads often used for exfoliation, as well as other types of microplastics that are used for a variety of purposes, such as providing texture, colour, or shine.

The ban will be phased in over a period of several years, with different deadlines for different types of cosmetics. For example, the sale of cosmetics containing microbeads was banned immediately – this principally affects exfoliators – while the sale of other rinse-off cosmetics containing microplastics will be banned in 2027. The ban on microplastics in leave-on cosmetics will take effect in 2029, and the ban on microplastics in makeup, lip, and nail products will take effect in 2035.

The EU ban on microplastics is expected to have a major impact on the cosmetics industry. Companies will need to reformulate their products to remove microplastics, and they will also need to find alternative ingredients that can provide the same functions. This could lead to higher costs for consumers, as well as changes in the performance and appearance of some cosmetic products.

The good news is it should have a positive impact on the environment. Microplastic beads can harm marine life, and although not proven, it isn’t completely impossible that they might affect human health. By banning microplastics in cosmetics, the EU is taking an important step towards reducing plastic pollution and protecting the environment.

Here are the key points:

  • Microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics. This means that products that currently use microbeads for exfoliation will need to be reformulated with alternative ingredients.
  • Other types of microplastics will also be phased out of cosmetics. This includes microplastics that are used for texture, colour, or shine. Companies will need to find alternative ingredients that can provide these functions.  The most visible effect will be on glitters.  There are alternatives but they won’t look the same.
  • The cost of cosmetics may increase. Reformulating products to remove microplastics will be expensive, and this cost may be passed on to consumers.  This probably isn’t going to be very noticeable in reality.  The relationship between the cost of manufacturing and what the consumer ends up paying isn’t a very close one.  But nobody in the business enjoys a cost increase.
  • The performance and appearance of some cosmetic products may change. Microplastics can provide a variety of functions in cosmetics, and removing them is likely to affect the way that products look and feel.  Natural alternatives are available and I don’t think anyone will need to go unexfoliated for want of a suitable alternative.  But if you have got a product you like, you may not find anything that matches it exactly.

Overall, the EU ban on microplastics is a positive step towards reducing plastic pollution and protecting the environment. It is going to be inconvenient for some companies in the industry, but it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.  The biggest shock is the speed at which the ban on exfoliating beads has come into force.  I don’t think it will cause much trouble though.  These have been unpopular products for a while given the worldwide interest in protecting the marine environment.  The EU ban also is pretty close to the UK regulation banning microbeads that came into force in 2018. So it might be less drastic than it at first appears.

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