As a keen environmentalist I often find myself face palming when a cosmetic company picks up on a green issue. They often home in on things that aren’t particularly relevant and propose solutions that are questionable. But I think the recent interest in the risks posed by microbeads is one where there is a real problem.
Microbeads are small plastic spheres added to cosmetic products either as exfoliators or as wrinkle fillers. They don’t pose any particular risk to the people using the products. Plastic is chemically inert and hardly any of it will get through the skin into your body. If it does, it will join plenty more plastic particles that you have already acquired from other sources. The issue is the effects they have when they end up going the drain and into water courses.
These tiny plastic beads are chemically stable and are going to be around for a long time to come – decades or even centuries. They might well end up playing quite unpredictable roles in marine ecosystems. I don’t think that any research has shown them having any harmful effect yet, but there are some risks. A microbead is very small compared to a human but might well be very harmful to a smaller animal. And we have seen in the past how pollutants can concentrate as they move up the food chain. Maybe none of this would do any harm, but it is worth taking the chance? We have no way of getting them back out again.
And there are easy solutions. We can use exfoliators that rapidly break down. Sugar for example works well and dissolves harmlessly once it goes down the plughole. Industry spokesmen have pointed out that there are other larger sources of microbeads than those used in cosmetics. No doubt this is true and no doubt this needs to be addressed. But lets clear our own act up.
I am happy to report that this has been taken up by the bigger players in the industry already and hopefully it will become a trend throughout.