9 Steps for Unearthing Products with Harmful Plastic Microbeads (Updated)

How to Find Out if Your Exfoliator has Plastic Microbeads {Those Graces}
My heart sunk last week after reading the article Don’t Lather, Don’t Rinse, Don’t Repeat, which describes a study of the Great Lakes that revealed something quite disturbing. The microbeads, or microplastics, found in beauty products are ending up in the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans. What damage are they doing exactly? On Earth reports,

While microbeads may be less visible than plastic bags, they are no less environmentally problematic. For one thing, they “look just like fish eggs, and thus like food” to a variety of aquatic organisms . . .  All marine micro-plastics are troublesome, given their tendency to absorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants that can potentially accumulate in the fatty tissues of anything that eats them. Moreover, when plankton, lugworms, mussels, or fish fill up on toxic junk food, they may well lose their appetite for healthier fare. Dutch scientists who fed mussels tiny nano-particles of polystyrene found that the shellfish subsequently ate less and grew less.

Since they are small enough to pass through pipes without issue,  they are also small enough to get through wastewater treatment systems. And Americans buy cosmetics containing more than 573,000 pounds of microbeads each year. This has become such an important issue that New York is now seeking to ban products containing microbeads.

Chances are you probably own products containing the plastic microbeads. If you’re concerned about the environment, you’ll want to invest some time figuring out if the products you use hurt our valuable water sources. In this post, I’ll teach you how to do that as well as provide natural alternatives to these harmful products. 

9 Steps for Unearthing Beauty Products with Plastic Microbeads

To figure out if your products contain plastic microbeads, you’ll have to perform an amateur science experiment. OK, I’m not sure it’s actually scientific, but it worked for me.

Step 1: Gather suspected products. This means cleansers, masks and exfoliators. If you’re unsure if something contains microbeads, squeeze a small amount of product between your fingers and rub them together. If it feels gritty or sandy, it most likely has microbeads.

Step 2: Grab the number cups or containers that corresponds to how many products you’re testing. Make sure you choose a container  you can easily fit your hand into. Line each product in front of its corresponding cup.

Step 3: Fill the container with lukewarm water similar to the temperature you use to wash your face.

Step 4: Squeeze about half a teaspoon of product into the water. I recommend using more than you would on your face so you can get a larger sample.

Step 5: Swirl the product in the water to break the product up.

Step 6: Let the container sit overnight. Make sure to leave the corresponding product in front of the container so you remember what’s in there.

Step 7: The next morning, slowly empty your container halfway.

Step 8: Put your hand inside of the container and feel for any product that settled at the bottom.

Step 9: If you feel that same gritty texture you felt in Step 1, you have plastic microbeads on your hands. Literally. It didn’t dissolve over 8 hours and probably never will.

I did this test for all my products with microbeads. Sadly, there was plastic in every single one. I’m still questioning what to do next. I’m definitely not going to use them, but I feel just as bad by sending them to the  landfill. What an eco-friendly dilemma! My plan is to throw them under my sink, pretend they don’t exist and then toss them out next time I move. I figure in the end, they’re probably less harmful in the landfill than they are in our lakes and streams.

Natural Alternatives

Do not fret! There are tons of natural exfoliators out there that you can make yourself. From baking soda to lemons to salt, I promise you there are options. I pinned about 17 natural exfoliators and recipes to my Beauty Board on Pinterest to help you get started!

What to Do With Them

Microbeads have been in the news lately, and like me, a lot of people are wondering what to do with their microbead-filled products. You can read more about what to do with yours here.

More Information

Thank you to readers who contributed more information in the comments section.

I know some brands are aware of the problem and are planning on phasing them out. I found this link: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/industry.

I have been telling my clients for years to stay away from microbeads. Very harmful to the skin.People tend to rub so had without realizing it that they cause micro tears in the skin. Unseen to their eyes. These micro tears thin the skin making it age faster. It can also cause hyperpigmentation since the body is trying to repair those tears quickly.
Susie of Esthetic Goddess

  • http://www.estheticgoddess.com/ Susie (The Esthetic Goddess)

    Courtney, I have been telling my clients for years to stay away from microbeads. Very harmful to the skin.People tend to rub so had without realizing it that they cause micro tears in the skin. Unseen to their eyes. These micro tears thin the skin making it age faster. It can also cause hyperpigmentation a the body is trying to repair those tears quickly.

    • http://thosegraces.com Courtney Mirenzi

      That’s so scary, but it makes total sense! I try to rub really gently and not push into the skin so much, but I can see how it would tear. Also, the idea of washing my face with plastic just sounds SO wrong!

      • http://www.estheticgoddess.com/ Susie (The Esthetic Goddess)

        I have been using Bioelemnts Kerafole on myself and clients for over 10 years now. It’s the coolest exfoliator ever! It is enzyme based so you just apply a thin layer to you face after you have cleansed it. Leave it on for 10 minutes and let the enzymes do their thing then rinse it off. Love this stuff!

        • http://thosegraces.com Courtney Mirenzi

          I’m going to save up my pennies! That product looks amazing!

  • http://www.style-wire.com Elissa

    Wow, i had no idea this was a problem!

    I guess I’ll be making my own scrubs here on out.


    • http://thosegraces.com Courtney Mirenzi

      I had no clue up until about a week ago!

  • Caryn

    I know some brands are aware of the problem and are planning on phasing them out. (I found this link: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/industry )

    It is a conundrum considering what to do with what you already have. I know there is at least one bottle in my house with them and i’ve hesitated to just toss it, but I can’t carry it around forever, especially since it’ll last longer than I will. (At the very least i’m still going to recycle the bottle it’s in, though most of the pictures you have at the top don’t even look recyclable, which is a whole other issue in the beauty industry. I’ve been making an effort to only buy stuff in recyclable packaging or I buy beauty products from Etsy sellers who bottle in stuff like glass. I don’t even want to think of how many little plastic containers like that are in the landfills, leaching chemicals and never breaking down.)

    Still, nice to see someone talking about it. And there definitely are lots of easy to make options.

    • http://thosegraces.com Courtney Mirenzi

      Great link! I’ll link to it at the end. I actually downloaded their app first, but found it wasn’t super useful. A lot of my exfoliators and products came in boxes that had the bar code, meaning the bar code wasn’t on the actual product, making it impossible to use their app.

      I’m pretty sure none of those plastic bottles in my photo are recyclable. You’re right–it’s a huge issue in the beauty industry that companies aren’t producing packaging that can be recycled. Even so, the ones that can be recycled aren’t that great either. I know the whole premise is to not buy the plastic in the first place, but I feel trapped sometimes. I can’t think of a single mainstream brand in the drugstore that uses glass bottles.

      I’m hesitant to buy stuff off etsty that isn’t regulated *at all*. I mean, I know the beauty industry doesn’t have tight regulation, but at least it has some regulation. I don’t know what the right answer is :/