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Plastic Microbeads - use in cosmetic products

You may have read reports in the media about the use of very small plastic beads (often referred to as plastic microbeads) and how they can affect the environment. CTPA would like to provide an assurance that the cosmetics industry is taking this issue seriously.

Responsible action

The micro size plastic present in the environment originates from a variety of sources, primarily from the breakdown of larger plastics (e.g. disintegration of plastic waste in marine waters, breakdown of synthetic clothing during machine washing). To resolve the plastic waste issue fully all sources of the problem have to be adequately identified and addressed.

However while the contribution from plastic microbeads in cosmetic products to the total environmental load is likely to be very small, the cosmetics industry does take this issue seriously.

Dr Chris Flower, Director-General of The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) and a Chartered Biologist and a toxicologist says:

"CTPA has made its members aware of the concerns over plastic microbeads and 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, although other companies may well be doing the same but without seeking publicity. 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 need to takes place."

What are plastic microbeads?

Plastic in the context of microbeads is a synthetic material (called polyethylene) that can be processed into various solid forms (in the case of microbeads, into small spheres) which then retain their defined shape during their use and after disposal.

How and why are they used in cosmetic products?

Plastic microbeads may be used in a variety of products, including cosmetics and personal care products such as scrubs, peeling creams, shower gels and toothpastes. In cosmetic products they are used as mild exfoliants to help remove dry cells from the surface of the skin.

Not all plastics are microbeads

Confusion surrounds the word 'Polyethylene' when used in the Ingredients list. This does not mean that the cosmetic product contains microbeads necessarily.

It is important to stress that there is a difference between the plastic beads themselves and other ways in which common plastics such as polyethylene can be used in cosmetic products. Other polyethylene-based ingredients which may form part of a cosmetic ingredient have very different properties and do not raise any environmental concerns. Many such ingredients are actually liquids to help products spread smoothly and evenly on the skin and are not relevant to the current discussion over the environmental fate of plastic microbeads.

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