Plastic microbeads used in mild exfoliants in scrubs, peeling creams, shower gels and toothpastes have become quite an issue lately. But the issue is not new. According to the international campaign against microbeads (Beat The Micro Bead), a study published by Fendall and Sewell from the University of Auckland as early as 2009, claimed that these microbeads pass into household waste water streams directly and are too small to be retained by the standard filters used at sewage treatment plants and therefore enter the marine environment and can also enter the food chain.
But to what extent? The full extent and consequences apparently are hard to quantify. The UK’s Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) expects the contribution from plastic microbeads in cosmetic products to the total environmental load to be very small. Germany’s IKW also considers the percentage of pollution caused by microbeads used in cosmetics to be relatively small.
However, the state of Illinois, has now reacted and has been the first state in the US to ban the sale and manufacture of soaps and cosmetics containing microbeads, prohibiting the manufacture of products containing micro beads by the end of 2018 and the sale of the products by the end of 2019.
But steps are being taken in Europe too to remove plastic microbeads from cosmetic products. Dr. Chris Flower, Director-General of the CTPA says: “We understand that many companies are now removing plastic microbeads from their products. Some have made public their decision to phase out the use of these microbeads in their products. If companies have decided to move away from using plastic microbeads we must remember that it will some take time before we start seeing this on the shelf as reformulation needs to takes place.”
The German Cosmetic, Toiletry, Perfumery and Detergent Association IKW is recommending its members too remove microbeads from their products.
These developments of course are a chance for the ingredients suppliers to react. And this is precisely what they are doing. More and more suppliers have come up with interesting solutions to replace plastic microbeads so that the selection becomes more and more varied for formulators to conceive appealing alternatives. But all this still means that products formulated with alternatives have to undergo various tests to safeguard product saftety, efficacy and stability. So a bit of patience certainly helps.