Microbeads are a kind of microplastic with a specific function for scrubbing or exfoliating. In cosmetics, “microplastic” refers to all types of tiny plastic particles (smaller than 5mm) that are intentionally added to cosmetics and personal care products. They are often used as emulsifying agents or just as cheap fillers.
Why are microplastics a problem?
These microplastics, hardly visible to the naked eye, flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter them out; that is how microplastics contribute to the ‘Plastic Soup’ swirling around in our oceans.
Sea animals absorb or eat microplastics; these particles can then be passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain, it is likely that we also ingest microplastics. Microplastics are not biodegradable and once they enter the (marine) environment, they are almost impossible to remove.
Using body washes or cosmetics that contain microplastics can put the ocean, ourselves, and our children at risk!
What is the difference between microbeads and microplastics?
Microbeads are a kind of microplastic. The cosmetics industry often limits the definition to solid plastic particles that have certain functions such as scrubbing and peeling or only rinse-off products. In 2012, Beat the Microbead started campaigning against rinse-off cosmetics products which contain visible and solid microbeads of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or Nylon. Since then, there has been more research conducted on what “microplastics” are and how they impact the environment and people. With the term microbeads, we used to refer to the visible particles of plastic smaller than 5mm which are usually of spherical shape.
The term ‘microplastic’ is not consistently defined but is typically considered to refer to small, usually microscopic, solid particles made of a synthetic polymer. They are associated with long-term persistence in the environment if released, as they are very resistant to (bio)degradation. In cosmetics, “microplastic” refers to all types of tiny plastic particles that are intentionally added to personal care and cosmetic products. This definition continues to evolve in accordance with ongoing relevant scientific research.