Tiny “microbeads” in beauty products seemed great, until someone tried to clean them up.
Sometimes product innovation turns out beautifully. Other times, it gets messy and requires a clean up. The story of plastic microbeads in personal care products–the tiny spheres in many body washes and toothpastes that Illinois became the first state to ban last week–is an example of the latter.
Some time in the 1990s, more and more beauty and cosmetics companies realized that microbeads answered a market demand: Women wanted to have glowing, younger-looking skin, but natural exfoliants used in many products–like ground up apricot or walnut shells–irritated their face. Plastic spheres, on the other hand, could slough off dead skin and dirt without being too harsh that a customer wouldn’t want to use it every day. They also could give lotions a creamier, silkier texture and help fill in facial lines. More and more brands began new “gently scrubbing” cleansers, and today, microbeads are ubiquitous on drug store shelves, in hundreds of products.
But all of this innovation also gets washed down the drain, and that’s the problem. Because the spheres are too small to be removed in many wastewater treatment plants, they end up in the lakes, oceans, and other waterways. Instead of decomposing, they just float around, and toxins like pesticides and PCBs that already are in the water can cling to their surfaces. Eventually, the plastics can wind up in the stomachs of birds and even seafood that humans eat, though the extent that this is happening is not known.
The Latest on: Microbeads
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The Latest on: Microbeads
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