Posted on: December 2, 2016 at 2:12 pm
Last updated: September 25, 2017 at 7:47 pm

In October 2015, seven of England’s major retailers began charging for plastic bags. In 2016, shoppers will have used six billion fewer plastic bags (the equivalent of about 300,000 sea turtles).[1] In 2017, the UK expects to take a big step in the fight against plastic microbeads.

If you’re like me, you probably feel guilty about the microbead products sitting in your bathroom now (and that’s just one room in your house). The results on microbeads are in and, yes, they contribute to microplastic pollution.

What are microbeads?

It’s been a decade since a group of University of Plymouth scientists proposed an emerging contaminant of potential concern: microplastic[2]. A microbead is a form of non-biodegradable microplastic that ranges from about 0.1 millionths of a meter to five millimeters in size. You can find microbeads in hundreds of household, industrial, and personal hygiene cleaning products.

Micro Bead, Macro Impact

plastic microbead

Their tiny size allows them to move through our environment with ease. But as they go down the drain, through the sewage system, and into the environment, they eventually impact aquatic life, wildlife, and their natural habitats.

Scientist Bradley Clarke and his team conducted a study[3] which acknowledged that microplastic is a global problem. In a media release about their findings, Clarke announced that the “research shows for the first time that persistent organic pollutants accumulate in the tissue of fish that eat microbeads.”[4] Current research doesn’t prove that eating fish with these pollutants is harmful to humans, however, this is a topic of great interest.

Another Environmental Science and Technology study[5] estimates that Americans wash 808 trillion microbeads down the drain every day, of which 8 trillion enter waterways through effluent.

A big problem has to do with the water treatment plants currently in use. Because microbeads are so tiny, it’s challenging for treatment plants to screen for them. So while the current system in place may seem impractical, they probably won’t change anytime soon.[6]

What did the UK do?

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They agreed to completely ban microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products by 2017 to protect sea life. The government acted in response to the billions of microbeads that have polluted marine environments.[7]

What are other countries doing?

In late 2015, the US passed a bill that will eventually ban soaps, body washes, and toothpaste containing microbeads.[8] It will take time, of course, but we can expect manufacturers to begin phasing out microbeads as early as July 1, 2017.

Since March 2015, Environment Canada has studied the impacts of microbeads on animals and their habitats. Finally, in June 2016, Environment Canada added microbeads to its Toxic Substances List. Since then, Canada has taken steps to ban microbeads in all toiletries which start on July 1, 2018.[9]



Manufacturers are trying to be more environmentally-friendly. As a result, some natural exfoliators that you may see more of in the future include pumice, salt and sugar, coffee grounds, and various nut shells (but don’t make these mistakes). Overall, we should be hopeful because many manufacturers have voluntarily phased out plastic microbeads over the last couple of years.

Removing microbeads from our products completely will take time. For now, use this list to start phase microbeads out of your life:

  • Clean and Clear: Blackhead Eraser Scrub, Oil Free
  • Clean and Clear: Morning Burst Facial Scrub, Oil Free
  • AXE: Scrub with Vitamin C
  • Clinique: 7-Day Scrub Rinse-Off Formula
  • Neutrogena: Men’s Razor Defense Face Scrub
  • Neutrogena: All-in-1 Acne Control Daily Scrub
  • Rite Aid: Renewal Exfoliating Cleanser
  • Victoria’s Secret: 2-in-1 Wash and Scrub (all scents)
  • Walgreens: Blackhead Clearing Scrub
  • Aveeno: Active Naturals Clear Complexion Cream Cleanser

Here’s the rest of Beat the Microbead’s three-page list.

Also, if you want to have a positive impact on the environment and your body, you’ll have to cut out daily microbead products listed above.

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