Green Corner: Microplastics in cosmetics, hygiene products

By Anette Gross, USAG Ansbach Environmental Management Division

Did you know, that nowadays products such as toothpaste, soap, and skin care products contain microplastics and that in the United States alone billions of these microbeads are discharged into waste water?

Microplastics are considered plastic particles that are smaller than 5 millimeters in size. They can be factory-made beads designed for cosmetics, or they are generated when products such as plastic bags disintegrate.

Some producers advertise their cosmetic products as good for skin and hair; however, can it be healthy or reasonable to shower and wash hairs with microplastics?

Plastic is a huge environmental issue. Firstly, plastic is a product of the nonrenewable resource petroleum and is not bio-degradable. Secondly, the small plastic particles reach treatment plants through waste water, and the treatment plants cannot filter these particles out of the water. Therefore, microbeads reach more or less un-resisted rivers, lakes and seas, where they are already found in vast amounts. Plastic can adsorb toxic pollutants such as pesticides and are ingested by microorganisms, fish and seabirds. This can be lethal to these creatures, or it can mean poisoned seafood ends up in on our plates.

Six U.S. states have already acted and banned or at least restricted the use of microplastics. Just recently California joined as the seventh state. In 2014, 10 percent of the American population was living in California. With California banning microplastics, a huge part of the customers will be lost.

In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the “Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015,” which “prohibits the manufacture and introduction into interstate commerce of rinse-off cosmetics containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads.” This act will prohibit the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics by July 1, 2017, and their sale by July 1, 2018.

Until then, how do you identify microplastic-containing products? It is not always easy.

Usually, names like Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polyamide, or Polyethylene Terephthalate give a hint. American customers may scan the bar codes of products using the “Beat the Microbead” app,, which will provide information.

Which products should you avoid? You may find microbeads in peelings, shower gels, powders, lipsticks, shampoos, makeup, suntan lotion, etc.

Alternatives: Microplastics are not approved for certified natural cosmetics. These producers use herbal and mineral substances, such as clay, chalk, silicic minerals, or salt in toothpaste, dried and powdered nutshells, stones of olives, apricots, and grapes, wheat bran in peelings, powdered minerals and gems in powder and eye shadow. You can recognize natural cosmetics by labels such as Natrue, Ecocert, Naturland, or Demeter.

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