Watch that Microbead Facial Scrub


As a growing number of legislators attempt to enact laws banning cosmetics and personal care items that contain plastic microbeads due to their impact on waterways, a recent study has found even a single use of a product going down the drain is a cause for concern.

The latest research at Plymouth University, published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, has recently estimated between 4,594 and 94,500 microbeads, each a fraction of a millimeter in diameter, could be released in a single use of certain products, such as facial scrubs. Subsequent analysis using electron microscopy showed that each 150ml of the products could contain between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles. 

"We estimated that between 4,594 and 94,500 microbeads could be released in a single use," according to the study, which added that this could result in up to 80 tonnes of unnecessary microplastic waste entering the sea every year from use of these cosmetics.

Aside from these findings, it has been a seesaw ride for legislative attempts to ban microbeads in California, although a bill banning using them in cosmetics and personal care has now passed the Assembly.

A revised version of Assembly bill 888, which prohibits the use of microbeads, received a legislative nod, passing 24-14, after a previous version was crushed by a vote of 19-16 in the California Senate a day earlier. The first time around, the bill fell two votes short of the 21 votes it needed to pass, even though a number of other states in the U.S. have already banned the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products.

A similar bill in California lost by one vote a year ago.

The earlier version of AB-888 would have prohibited, on and after January 1, 2020, a person, as defined, from selling or offering for promotional purposes in California "a personal care product containing plastic microbeads that are used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product, as specified." Also, it would have exempted from those prohibitions the sale or promotional offer of a product containing less than 1 part per million (ppm) by weight of plastic microbeads.

The newer version removed this wording that required the use of natural products as exfoliants in any alternative developed by the cosmetics industry as well as state oversight in reviewing the microbead alternatives. Plastic microbeads under the bill are still prohibited on and after Jan 1, 2020 and AB-888 passed the Assembly on a concurrence vote on Tuesday.

Microbeads were found in the Los Angeles River last year, according to the office of California assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). Proponents of the microbeads ban argue that fish often mistake non-biodegradable plastic microbeads for food and eat them, resulting in toxins further up the food chain. However, a number of product manufacturers are using safe and natural alternatives such as crushed nut shells.

As of this report, Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, Maine and Colorado already have bans on non-biodegradable microbeads, with other states with bills in process such as New York, which await state Senate action. 

Read more about this microbead study as well as the recent California vote on microbeads on Skin Inc.'s affiliate site Cosmetics & Toiletries

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