by Nicole P
August 19, 2019
Skin exfoliation works in two primary ways: by mechanically scrubbing away dirt and debris from skin or by chemically removing skin impurities. Microbeads have been used to physically exfoliate skin for over 50 years. Unfortunately, microbeads are traditionally made from plastics which are non-biodegradable.
In recent years, microbeads have come under fire for their massive environmental impact on our oceans, wildlife, and much more. So how can we avoid this problem?
Let’s first define microbeads, discuss why exactly microbeads are harmful, and identify alternative exfoliation methods that are better for your skin and for the environment.
Merriam-Webster defines microbead as “a tiny sphere of plastic (such as polyethylene or polypropylene)...used especially as exfoliants in facial scrubs and body washes.” These tiny plastic balls have been used in exfoliants since the 1960s for a simple reason: they are cheap and they work.
Microbeads work by acting as a gentle abrasive against skin, which exfoliates by removing dirt, debris, dead skin, and sebum (natural skin oil). Microbeads generally do not interact with the other ingredients in body washes, soaps, and shampoos, and are simply a physical exfoliant.
In the 1990s, microbeads became standard ingredients in many household skincare and beauty products. Exfoliation has long been recommended by dermatologists, and these innovative microbead products seemed like the wave of the future.
So why are microbeads being banned across the globe? The answer is simple: microbeads are highly threatening to the environment and to many ecosystems. To understand why, consider the two primary features of microbeads:
The result is a situation where microbeads make their way into oceans and natural wildlife and they are nearly impossible to remove. Fish and other ocean-dwelling animals frequently eat microbeads, confusing them for morsels of food. This leads to situations where animals are sick and dying due to microbeads in our bodies of water.
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 has since been passed, effectively banning microbeads from being manufactured, produced, or distributed in the United States. This means that it is illegal to use microbeads in the US, with similar laws spreading in other countries. So how can we replace microbeads as an effective exfoliant?
Thankfully, there is no shortage of all-natural exfoliants which are both effective and safe for the environment. Here are a few natural ingredients which you can use to gently cleanse and exfoliate your skin:
Sea Salt: a great example of a natural exfoliant is sea salt. Due to its abrasive nature, salt is able to remove impurities from your skin without any added synthetic chemicals. Sea salt can be used in exfoliating scrubs or as an ingredient in all natural artisan soaps.
Activated charcoal: a rising star in the skincare world, activated charcoal (activated carbon) is extremely gentle on skin while remaining effective as an exfoliant. This can also be used in scrubs, soaps, and other high quality products.
Sugar: another replacement for harsh microbeads is a simple one -- sugar. Sugar is used similarly to sea salt as it relies on its texture, shape, and size to exfoliate. While all three of these ingredients are powerful alone, when packaged together in a charcoal salt & sugar scrub, they deliver incredible results!
In many countries, yes, microbeads have been banned. The United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Italy, and Sweden are just a few nations that have made the sale and/or usage of microbeads illegal.
The question of exfoliation within a skin care routine is highly dependent on your individual skin type and skin needs. Generally speaking, deep exfoliation can be done weekly while gentle exfoliation can be done daily or every other day. It is important to remember not to overdo it!
Microbeads were traditionally made of plastics such as polyethylene, polymethyl methacrylate, nylon, polypropylene, and more. Microbeads have since been replaced with other exfoliants such as apricot pits, coffee grounds, sugar, sea salt, activated charcoal, and much more.
At The Yellow Bird, we didn’t need any legislation to know that microbeads would never be used in our skin and hair care products. Our philosophy is to find all natural ingredients which are safe, effective, and environmentally friendly. We are proud to offer soaps, shampoo bars, bath bombs, and more which are always free of microbeads, parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic dyes, GMOs, and are never tested on animals. Our charcoal salt & sugar scrub was specifically designed to physically exfoliate naturally without the use of microbeads.
To learn more, please read our story or take a brief skincare quiz to find your perfect product match!
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