Plastic microbeads in cosmetics are getting into oceans and waterways. They soak up poison and get into the food chain. Many organisations are pushing for awareness and banning the microbead (there are links at the end of this post). This is a serious enough problem that governments are starting to ban them.
I took a closer look at some facial scrubs for myself. I have a fairly basic USB microscope so I examined three products with microbeads in them. Last time I looked at a “natural” product:
This one lets you know it contains “powerful microbeads”:
Here’s one of those beautifully round beads next to a 2 millimeter grid (each square is about 1/12 inch wide). The bead is less than a millimeter wide.
In the third product, “tiny spherical beads gently buff, refine and smooth”.
These bits of plastic aren’t so spherical.
This product felt very gritty. I diluted it with water to get a clearer look at the beads, then let the bits of plastic settle. Then I put the settled sediment on a glass microscope slide.
Besides the bigger bits, at 20x you could just make out some very small dots – here they are with the 2 mm grid:
All the images above are at 20 times magnification. Lets take a closer look at these tiny dots.
So these must be the “tiny spherical beads”. According the the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) microbeads can be as small as one micrometer.
Microbeads and microplastics in cosmetic and personal care products. Oliver Bennett. House of Commons Briefing Paper May 2016. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:LjCahOMK214J:researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7510/CBP-7510.pdf+&cd=12&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au
Plastic in Cosmetics. UNEP Fact Sheet. Are we polluting the environment through our personal care? http://unep.org/gpa/documents/publications/PlasticinCosmetics2015Factsheet.pdf
Microbeads – A Science Summary. July 2015. Where the Canadian Government recommends listing microbeads as a toxic product. http://www.ec.gc.ca/ese-ees/ADDA4C5F-F397-48D5-AD17-63F989EBD0E5/Microbeads_Science%20Summary_EN.pdf
For more links see Putting Poison in the Pantry (Fireside Science).