Microbeads can be a miracle product for your skin, effectively sloughing off dead skin and makeup. They’re used in products made by Biore, Laura Mercier, Neutrogena, and more. But there’s a catch: the tiny plastic spheres are infiltrating the environment, and our waters and wildlife suffer as a result.
Studies have shown 663 or more marine species might be affected by microplastics. One study in particular found 35% of fish contained some type of microplastic in their innards; this means that the fish, from cod to oysters, that make it onto our plates are also contaminated.
To date, it isn’t clear what effect microbeads would have on humans when ingested. But a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed oysters that came into contact with microbeads had trouble using energy efficiently and also caused reproductive issues.
Microbeads take a stealthy path to get to waterways. After washing down bathroom drains, they’re are typically carried to wastewater treatment plants. Because they’re so small–tinier than 5 millimeters–most of the plastics aren’t filtered out, and end up in ecosystems around the globe.
As awareness grows, new limits are tacked onto the plastic. On December 18, 2015, Congress amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) by passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. This means companies will have to stop manufacturing cosmetics that will wash microbeads down the drain by July of this year, and stop distributing them by July of 2018 in the hopes that this will slow the stream of them into ecosystems.
To ensure you’re not contributing to microbead contamination, check the labels of skincare products before you purchase them. If they contain polyethylene or polypropylene, they contain microbeads. Check this list for products you can purchase that don’t contain microbeads, and become a part of the solution – not the problem!