Danger of Microplastics in Skincare For You and the Planet
So if you know me, you would know that I’m a big fan of sustainability and reducing waste. It’s scary to see how our increasing consumption is negatively impacting our environment. It’s easy to have this kind of “out of sight, out of mind” mindset because so many of us do live in cities or suburbs. However, if you took a look at our oceans, you’d witness how plastics can destroy aquatic life. Microplastics, in particular, are extremely harmful.
- The beauty industry is a main contributor to plastic waste in the ocean.
- Cosmetic formulas, empty bottles, and excessive packaging all add to the growing microplastic problem.
- Microplastics are abrasive on your skin but you can also ingest them when you eat fish.
- Educate yourself and reduce your plastic consumerism to reduce the effect of microplastics on the planet and your body.
What are microplastics
Microplastics are plastics that are less than five millimeters in length (1). For context, this is approximately the size of a sesame seed. The most common type of microplastic you’ve probably heard of are microbeads (the tiny spheres found in physical exfoliants). However, microplastics can come from any huge plastic waste.
In the water, plastic debris can break off into tiny pieces. Once they break down, plastics also emit phthalates and bisphenol A, chemicals that concern even human health (7). Plastics even absorb other toxic contaminants such as “PCBs, pesticides, PAHs, dioxins, perfluorinated alkylated compounds, synthetic musks, metals, etc” (4).
Ocean organisms unknowingly ingest these plastics, and the toxic impact only grows as we move up the ocean food chain, as predators will have ingested more plastic overall. Not only are ocean animals dying, but even the fish larvae are killed after too much exposure (7).
Why are we talking about microplastics in a beauty blog
The beauty industry is a main contributor to plastic waste in the ocean. Before 2015, we would just wash down millions of microbeads down the drain. (I am also guilty of this! I used to love those scrubs.) Since they’re so small, they don’t get filtered out and go straight to the ocean. While the US has banned them, they are still in use in other countries (1).
But aside from microbeads, just think about all of the plastic jars, bottles, and pumps you go through. It’s the cleansers, face creams, nail polish bottles, shampoo bottles, serums, and etc. This isn’t even covering the plastic packaging that arrives with your product. In 2018, approximately 7.9 billion units of rigid plastic were created just for beauty and personal care products (12). This is within the US alone.
Microplastics can still be found in most cosmetics including your foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick, and so on.
Here are a couple of ingredients that should signal the presence of microplastics:
- Acrylates Copolymer
- Polymethyl methacrylate
Harmful for the planet and harmful to your body
Now you know how bad microplastics are for the environment, but what if, by chance, you don’t care about the environment? Well, you may be consuming fish that have ingested microplastics as well. Or say you do get your hands on products with microbeads.
Microbeads are not the best for your beauty purpose. The reason? They’re abrasive. Those microbeads in your scrub can cause skin abrasions, which not only irritate but also dry out the skin. In toothpaste, the intense friction wears down the tooth enamel. And if the particles get stuck in your gums, they will attract bacteria (9).
How can I help
1. Educate yourself
The number one thing I always recommend is education. While this article should be a start in your sustainability journey, it shouldn’t be the end. By seeking out more information, you will learn to be more mindful about plastic consumption and wary about what’s in your beauty/personal care products.
2. Reduce your amount of beauty items with microplastics
I’m not telling you to ditch all your beloved cosmetics because I’m a big believer in sustainable behavior changes. But after educating yourself, I would challenge you to pick and choose which microplastic products you could do without. One item I would recommend ditching is glitter.
Why? Well for one, it can irritate your skin and most of the shimmery goodness I’m fond of comes from mica, not glitter (6). And don’t get me started on packaging. Some companies really love to boast about their recyclable material but then cover it in glitter. This actually contaminates otherwise perfectly recyclable material, so it ends up being thrown away.
3. Donate to an organization
If you want to go the extra mile, donating is another way to support the cause. There are plenty of organizations online, so I would find one that really suits your vision.
Beware of plastics both inside and outside your beauty products. Just because microbeads were recently banned in the US doesn’t mean we suddenly resolved the microplastic problem. Our oceans are littered with plastics, and the beauty industry is partially to blame. It’s crazy to think that there are literal piles of plastic trash floating around in the ocean, some as large as the state of Texas. It’s up to us to be more conscious of our consumptions to help save our environment.
Written by Jessica Lu