Sea Animals Don’t Want to Eat Your Face Wash

If you use a typical off-the-shelf face cleanser or body wash that claims to be an “exfoliator” or “scrub,” chances are, its scouring power comes from tiny pieces of plastic called microbeads.

These beads, many of them as small as a grain of sand, might make your skin feel refreshed, but they’re anything but refreshing for the environment. They’re usually made from polyethylene or polypropylene, two plastic-based compounds that don’t biodegrade. When you wash your hands and face with them, or use them in the shower, they run down the drain with the rest of the water. They’re too tiny for most water filtration systems to capture so ultimately, they end up in lakes, rivers, and even the oceans – and that’s where they stay.

Tube of plastic microbeads Photo Credit:

Fish and other sea animals may gulp them up as food, though they’re far from nutritious. In addition to being made of petroleum, micro-plastic has a tendency to attract other pollutants, like DDT, PCBs, flame retardants, and other toxic chemicals. Even if an animal didn’t willingly eat microbeads, it would end up ingesting them because they’re unavoidable once they get in the water. Plastic microbeads have been found in fish, marine mammals, mussels and even worms, from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Ocean.

Illinois has already banned the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain microbeads, but the new law won’t start going into effect until 2017, and even then, the phase-in will be gradual. Several other states, including Ohio, New York and California, are looking to follow suit. However, once again, their bans wouldn’t phase in completely for several more years. Some companies are voluntarily replacing their plastic microbeads with ground coconut shells and other biologically-based scrubbers. However, they will continue to sell the products that contain plastic microbeads until that inventory is gone.

What Can You Do?

You don’t need to wait for states or companies to make the shift to healthier bio-based microbeads. Read the label when you shop.


Read the label when you shop so you can make a better choice for yourself and the planet. Avoid the following:

* Products that include “microbeads” as one of their ingredients

* Products whose ingredients include polyethylene or polypropylene

* Skip “exfoliating” or “scrubbing” cleansers and washes all together; replace them with a reusable loofah, sponge, or wash cloth. Any of these alternatives will get your skin shiny and refreshed without sending nasty particles down the drain. Plus, you’ll save money. Buying one loofah that you use for a year could save you at least $60 on face scrub or body wash.


Use your power as a consumer to choose soaps, shampoos, body wash and even toothpaste that already are safe to use. Look for…

* Products that use coconut shells, cocoa beans, apricot pits, and other clearly biological ingredients to give their soap and shampoo scrubbing oomph

Learn more from the “Beat the Micro Bead” campaign being led by the 5 Gyres Institute and other non-profits to convince manufacturers to do away with micro beads and to pressure legislators to pass laws that ban these pollutants from our soap and shampoo. Add your name to this Care2 petition calling for a ban on plastic microbreads.

What natural ways do you scrub your face? Please share!


Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

I don't use any of these products, I exfoliate with sugar, olive oil, coffee, coconut oil and clean with natural soaps. So sharing, micro plastics should be banned!

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G.1 years ago

interesting article, thank you

JL A.2 years ago

good reminder

Dale O.

More things that we don't need in the environment. Microbeads are hardly environmentally friendly, more natural cleansers, etc., is always preferable.

Emily G.
Emily J.2 years ago

you can make really good facial scrub using ground almonds, oatmeal and other gentle scrubby stuff, no need for plastic beads in skincare products.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola2 years ago

Thank you for posting

.2 years ago

Cheryl Mallon-Bond

Microbeads are bad for the earth as well as your skin ANYTHING petroleum based...(which is most personal care products as well as cleaning products are toxic & they are endocrine disruptor's &,can cause cancer & autoimmune diseases. They should all be ditched!!!!! We (not me personally) are paying are har-earned $$$,to.poison ourselves. &,many are cruelly tested on animal's as well!

Mike S.
Mike s.2 years ago

Good to know for the people who use these products, I'm now wondering about the hand cleaner I sometimes use at work.

Anteater Ants
Anteater Ants2 years ago

Formic acid will do. :-)