Ruth Griffin: What are the safe alternatives to microbeads?
A one-time beauty buzzword, recent legislation passed in the US, Canada and Holland has banned the use of microbeads from cosmetic and beauty products, with the Environmental Audit Committee in the UK calling for a ban there within 18 months.
But what exactly are these microbeads and how are they so damaging to our environment that the American Environmental Protection Agency has officially labelled them a toxic substance?
Microbeads are tiny particles used in numerous cosmetics and personal care products, in particular scrubs and exfoliators, that are non-biodegradable and too microscopic to be filtered out by our sewage system.
These plastic microbeads are streaming into our seas, rivers and lakes adding to the five trillion pieces of plastic already floating in our waters. The microbeads are then ingested by the fish and work their way up the food chain into humans. Studies have shown microbeads to have a damaging effect on sea life and birds' health (particularly damaging for reproductive systems of sea creatures), but the exact effect on human health is as yet unknown.
When a tube of cleanser can contain approximately 300,000 microbeads, and taking a single shower using a product containing plastic beads can result in 100,000 of the particles being flushed straight into our seas, it's not difficult to see the ugly effect of these beauty products. Actress Jennifer Aniston recently came under fire from Nature, the world's leading science journal, for her role in promoting an Aveeno skin product containing microbeads.
The good news is we can be kind to both our skin and our environment by choosing safe scrub alternatives using nutshells, sugar and salt scrubs, oatmeal and fruit acids.
IN FOCUS: MICROBEADS
* Plastic microbeads are present in numerous beauty products including toothpaste, moisturiser, lip balms, make-up, shaving foam, shampoo, shower gels, cleansers and especially exfoliators and scrubs.
* Look out for the following titles on a product's ingredient list: polyethylene, polypropylene, PET, PTFE, PMMA - these are all plastic microbead descriptions.
* The EU is currently developing proposals to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetics use here, due to increasing pressure from member states.
* For skin exfoliation alternatives, look for the following: glycolic, salicylic, lactic and fruit acids as a kinder but effective option for skin polishing. Groundnut shells and sugar and salt scrubs are wonderful options, too.
6 of the best - microbead-free exfoliators
Best for Body Exfoliation
Containing dead sea salts, coconut and Vitamin E oils, this is such a gorgeous product. I use it on my face occasionally, too.
Dead Sea Magik Salt Brushing, €14.50. Pharmacies and health food stores nationwide, or buy it here now.
Fruit Enzymes Exfoliation
Plastic, synthetic microbeads do so much damage needlessly when there are natural options like Kiehl's Pineapple Papaya Facial Scrub, €28.50 available from Arnotts. Fruit enzymes work together in this product to eat away at dead, flaking skin.
Department stores nationwide and Kiehl's stores.
For Sensitive Skin
Using finely milled corncob meal as an exfoliant and with no artificial colours or fragrances, this is ideal for women with sensitive, red-prone skin. Wait a full skin cycle (4-6 weeks) before seeing a real difference.
Dermalogica Skin Prep Scrub, €36, dermalogica.ie or selected salons nationwide
Hot Cloth Cleanser/Exfoliator
Natural beauty guru Liz Earle has multiple exfoliating skin options that are entirely microbead-free. A best seller in her Cleanse and Polish line is her Hot Cloth Cleanser, €20.75, that uses a mix of natural oils and fruit acids.
Department stores nationwide and lizearle.ie
I only use exfoliators once or twice a fortnight, but when I do use them, I want my skin to feel clean. With this product, my skin feels sparkling and smooth after use. A great budget buy using walnut shell, crushed apricot seeds and natural AHAs.
Botanics All Bright Scrub, €2.99, available at Boots shops nationwide.
2-in-1 Cleanser and Exfoliator
If you suffer from an uneven skin tone, skin discolouration or pigmentation, you need to be consistent with your skin polishing. Using a daily all-in-one cleanser and exfoliator is the best way of doing this. Try REN's Micro Polish, €24, a 2-in-1 cleansing mousse that cleans and exfoliates very gently for a sparkling, more even skin tone. Pharmacies nationwide or at Arnotts here.