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“Microbead” Facial Scrubs

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | May 6, 2008

So, you’ve heard of those “microbead” facial and body scrubs? Ever wonder what the microbeads are made of? As it turns out, they’re actually tiny balls of polyethylene plastic:

From Orion Magazine: “[PhD student Mark Browne] selects a peach-colored tube of St. Ives Apricot Scrub; its label reads: 100% natural exfoliants. “This stuff is okay. The granules are actually chunks of ground-up jojoba seeds and walnut shells.” Other natural brands use grape seeds, apricot hulls, coarse sugar, or sea salt. “The rest of them,” he says, with a sweep of his hand, “have all gone to plastic.”

On each, listed among the ingredients are “micro-fine polyethylene granules,” or “polyethylene micro-spheres,” or “polyethylene beads.” Or just polyethylene.

“Can you believe it?” Richard Thompson demands of no one in particular, loud enough that faces bent over microscopes rise to look at him. “They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.”

Beth over at Fake Plastic Fish lists some of the popular brands which contain these beads (and provides a Drugstore.com link to their full list of products containing polyethylene):

So, moral of the story? Look for scrubs which contain absolutely natural and identifiable ingredients, or make your own for a fraction of the cost (scroll down this page to find a thorough listing of scrub recipes, and read about how Allie switched to using baking soda as a scrub).

Topics: Health | 28 Comments »

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Comment by Brdgt
2008-05-06 07:49:45

The World Without Us had a very interesting chapter on this very issue and how these plastics end up in the ocean and wash up in waves.

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:51:49

Thanks for the link, Brdgt!

Comment by Allie
2008-05-06 09:07:20

Thanks for the link!

The idea of plastics made to go directly down the drain is absolutely awful!

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:52:15

It is so beyond reason that it’s incomprehensible. *sigh*

2008-05-06 09:38:49

[...] Tiny Choices has another reason to stick to natural skin care. [...]

2008-05-06 14:17:49

holy moly, nuuurdles! scary stuff I had no idea about. must go check out Allie’s baking soda post, could baking soda be the answer to more green questions?!

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:52:41

I think that baking soda is actually the messiah in powdered form. :)

Comment by Julia
2008-05-06 16:22:52

Every once in a while you hear something like this and it just hits you in the gut. How can this even be legal? Keep spreading the word, TIny Choices! I’m certainly going to send this link to every person I know!

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:53:16

Thanks, Julia! I know, it seems too insane to be legal.

Comment by cat147
2008-05-06 16:27:22

as a wastewater professional (but by no means an expert), i wonder how much of this plastic gets trapped in the wastewater treatment plant sludge? and if it is being trapped, it is not getting out to the rivers & oceans for the fishies to eat.

however, the thought of scraping my skin with bits of plastic kinda makes me shudder.

Comment by Karina
2008-05-06 16:46:19

but sometimes it’s then getting trapped and applied to farm lands, thought! not that I’m a wastewater professional but I would say I’m a dilettante.

Comment by cat147
2008-05-06 17:26:50

ooooh – that is true. not to mention ‘clogging’ the solids side of the treatment plant. ugh!!!

oh, i just learned a new word, miss dilettante!

Comment by Karina
2008-05-07 13:55:51

nothing better than being a wastewater dilettante! :)

Comment by Katie Alender
2008-05-06 16:51:55

Oh! A good reason to switch.

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:54:01

Hi Katie– yep, this is definitely as good a reason as any to switch brands!

2008-05-06 17:25:24

Oh my gawd- that is seriously disgusting. The health implications are so broad it’s hardly believable that these products actually got made. #1 -who wants to rub plastic all over their skin to make it healthier ? #2 – the whole plastic down the drain thing is grossly irresposible. Crazy ! Thanks for posting this.

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:54:26

Hey Leslie! I know, absolutely crazy. Crazy!!! Oy.

Comment by Beth
2008-05-06 17:39:20

It’s awful that plastics are going down the drain, but even worse that they are being ground into people’s skin and absorbed into their bloodstream. This is an atrocity, and I am so glad you made me aware of it!

Comment by Jenn
2008-05-06 20:56:11

Hi Beth! Thanks for reading along, and I’m glad to have shed light on this bizarre fact, strange as it may be!

Comment by Janice
2008-05-06 23:00:43

Thanks for the link to recipies for homemade stuff! I’ve been meaning to look that up. I randomly tried kosher salt and olive oil one day and it was nice on my arms, but I made it for emergency face exfoliating purposes and it wasn’t a good choice for that. I’m going to try the baking soda!

Comment by michelle
2008-05-07 10:56:37

not for nothing…a washcloth is a good exfoliater. you can use a washcloth to wash your face, or you can even put your moisturizer on a wash cloth or towel and rub it on for gentle exfoliation. not that the baking soda won’t work, but if your skin is on the sensitive side, it might not be the best idea.

Comment by cat147
2008-05-07 18:22:55

tru dat! don’t underestimate the power of a wash cloth and some nice, natural soap/moisturizer.

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2008-05-21 12:06:51

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Comment by Marni
2008-07-12 03:01:52

Baking Soda is a great alternative to ANY commercial scrub. Just mix a bit of it in your hand with water to form a paste, and scrub. Feels heavenly, is 100% natural, and costs next to nothing.

Comment by pauline
2009-05-11 13:26:03

You should try the Rooibos Face Scrub from the Made from Earth product line….here’s what it did for me:

I used to have acne in junior and high school, but 10 years after graduation I didn’t think it would come back just because I got pregnant. I sure was WRONG! My acne first trimester was so horrible even my husband couldn’t deny it any longer. I wish I could say that the Made from Earth Rooibos Face scrub is a miricle product and it cleared up my acne completely and immediately, but the truth is that is took a few weeks and it cleared about 50% in the first couple of weeks. But after months of NOTHING working I was very pleased!
I’ve bought another jar after my first one ran out and though my skin is better – MUCH BETTER. It is very gentle and doesn’t irritate the skin in any way whatsoever – which i think is what was causing my breakouts – because I have VERY sensitive skin. Plus–it’s the only safe acne wash I’ve found that actually has acne fighting ingredients.

Highly recommended!

you can find them at http://www.madefromearth.com

Comment by shari
2011-04-05 13:05:10

While I am not recommending using plastic microbeads, I have heard and read many times against exfoliants with ground nut or apricot seeds. Dermatologists claim they actually harm your skin with their jagged edges. Just because it’s natural, doesn’t make it the answer. Just sayin’.

Comment by Jenn
2011-04-05 13:44:07

Hey Shari, good point– which is why I recommend experimenting with various options until you find one which works for your particular skin. Personally, I use and love plain baking soda– it’s cheap, it’s natural, and it is only lightly abrasive. Works for me– let us know what works for you! There are lots of options out there.

Comment by Jo
2011-07-05 16:12:27

Great pioneer work. 3 years afterwards and no change. I’ve identified 20 brands that use polyethylene microspheres in their products… crazy!
Believing this is mostly done and used through ignorance, we need to spread the word and make some pressure for such a simple change, as there are so many alternatives to this material.

Recently a petition has been created to address this, so lets join forces:



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