I Won't Miss Microbead Scrubs When New York Bans Them

In my opinion, those itty-bitty exfoliation globules don't work well enough to justify the havoc they wreak on nature.
Publish date:
February 12, 2014
new york, exfoliation, body scrubs, face scrubs, environment, bans, microbeads

Microbeads--those tiny plastic balls in a lot of inexpensive scrubs--have seen better days.

There was a time when they were the selling point in ads for the products they're in. In addition to being touted as an effective way to exfoliate, and a gentler option than some other types of exfoliating particles, there was something kind of... I dunno... cute about them? They came in pretty colors and it was fun to see them suspended in the goop.

Recently, however, there's been quite a bit of grumbling over what happens to microbeads when you rinse them off your face.

“It goes down the drain, but going down the drain doesn’t mean it goes away,” Long Island Assemblyman Robert Sweeney said about microbeads, which don't dissolve. The comment was made yesterday when Sweeney, on behalf of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, introduced a bill to ban personal-care products containing the wee spheroids.

Studies, like the research conducted by SUNY chemistry professor Sheri Mason, have shown that the microbeads are content to just hang out in lakes and be environmental villains.

“We start processing samples and see these little round perfect sphere beads of plastic. That was not what we were expecting at all,” Mason told ABC News about her findings from Lake Erie. “You go, ‘Oh my gosh. These are microbeads.’ You know them when you see them. They’re so perfectly round, and they’re brightly colored.”

That's not a good "Oh my gosh."

“One small plastic particle can suck up oil drops from cars, pesticides, insecticides, industrial chemicals like PCBs,” Marcus Eriksen told 1010 WINS. Eriksen is the research director of the anti-plastic pollution group 5 Gyres, so you know he's all, "I HEART NEW YORK" over this bill.

Some of the companies that make the most popular microbead scrubs--like Unilever, P&G and Johnson & Johnson--already decided to start phasing out these formulas over the next couple of years, so it'll be interesting to see what happens to New York's skincare shelves if the ban goes into effect before the products are voluntarily reformulated or pulled.

Personally, it doesn't affect me. I'm not big on microbead scrubs. I usually prefer a chemical exfoliator to get the deadness off of me, but if I do use a physical exfoliator, I'll use something like Goldfaden MD Doctor's Scrub, which contains ruby crystals (a form of aluminum oxide, which can be found in much less expensive formulas than that). There are also scrubs that rely on salt, nut shells and other abrasive particles, but some people find these too harsh and skin-rippy.

If you're not sure whether or not your current scrub has plastic microbeads, look for either polyethylene or polypropylene in the ingredient list, and then scream, "I'm sorry, little fishies!" upon finding them, because that's what microbeads are made of.

So, obviously, this begs the question: Are you using a microbead scrub? Do you think a legislative ban is a good idea?