Here, we have summarized the most frequently asked questions about the app.
Can the app detect ingredients that are not listed in English?
The app currently only scans product labels and ingredients in English. The app will not give accurate results if the product label and ingredients are in any other language. We might add different languages at a later stage. Meanwhile, you can check if your product is already in our database.
My product is round, and the app can’t read the entire ingredient list. What can I do?
The entire ingredients list must be in the camera frame for the app to give accurate results. If your bottle is a cylinder, rounded or circular, some ingredients may fall out of the image, or some words are cut in half. The shape of your product might be the reason why the app was not able to assess it. We are trying our best to find a solution for such products. But, in the meantime, you can try finding the ingredients of your products on the brand's website and scan from there. We are constantly checking and adding products to our database. You can search this database for product information here and check if they have microplastics or not.
The app gives different scan results for the same product. How can that be?
There can be multiple reasons why that might happen. First, the product might be cylindrical, rounded, or circular in shape. When you scan a product with such a shape, some words might fall out of the camera frame, and the app might not recognize the words it doesn't see. Secondly, sometimes brands experiment with different ingredient compositions for the same products. This might be why the same products give different results because brands are constantly changing the ingredients of their products. That's why we advise you to always scan your products before buying. Or only buy your cosmetics and care products from trusted green and natural brands. Want some recommendations? Try our 'Zero Plastic Inside' Brands!
Why should I always scan cosmetic and care products for microplastics before buying?
The cosmetic and personal care products industry is one of the fastest-growing and changing industries. Brands keep changing their product formulation, constantly adding or removing ingredients. Hence, we advise you to always keep a close check on the products you buy. Based on the most recent research or by discovering (skeptical) microplastics through the maintenance of our database, we constantly add new ingredients to our red and orange lists. That's why we recommend constantly scanning your products before buying. The database on our website is always up-to-date with these changes. So you can always go there to check the status of your products.
I have added products to your database, but I still do not see them on your website. Why is that?
Thank you for submitting the product you scanned. The data we are able to generate with your help is of enormous importance. The number of products sent to us by the app users has been fantastic and overwhelming. At this moment, we have over 120,000 products waiting for our approval. We are a small team with a limited number of hands and are trying our best to add as many products as possible to our database daily. You can contribute to our crowdfunding so we can get more help!
Does the app also scan detergents and cleaning products?
Unfortunately, detergents, dishwashing liquids, and other cleaning products are not obliged to mention all the ingredients on their products. This is the reason why we do not include them in our app at the moment because the assessment won't be accurate. If you can find the entire ingredient list online on the brand website, you can take a photo of that with the app to check for microplastics.
I want to replace my products with microplastics with clean alternatives. Where can I find a list of products that are 100% free of microplastics?
I have a suggestion to improve the app. How can I get in touch with you?
We value your insights and feedback. If you have any suggestions, do not hesitate to reach out through the contact form on our website.
I am a microplastic-free brand. How can I get the ‘Zero Plastic Inside’ acknowledgment logo?
If you are a brand that does not use microplastic ingredients in your products, you can have our 'Zero Plastic Inside' acknowledgment logo. For more information, contact us!
I have supported the crowdfunding you started last year. How will my contribution be put to use?
Thank you for supporting us with your donation. We are truly grateful. We will use the money we raise to keep the app free for everyone and check all products and add them one by one to our database. With every euro you donate, we will be able to add two products to our database. With your contribution, we can also make the app even more user-friendly. All the information we are collecting through the app will help us expose the microplastics use of the industry and convince politicians to ban plastic ingredients in cosmetics.
Here, we have summarized the most frequently asked questions about the campaign.
What are microbeads and what is their function?
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are intentionally added to personal care products. They are commonly used in exfoliating products and toothpaste. ‘Microbead’ is a marketing term introduced by the cosmetic industry. The microbeads that the industry refers to are mainly made of Polyethylene (PE) and Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA).
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 & cosmetic products. This definition continues to evolve in accordance with ongoing relevant scientific research.
Are microplastics toxic?
Yes and no. As an ingredient in cosmetics, the industry claims that microplastics are not toxic and safe to use. However, there are doubts as to the human and environmental safety of plastic ingredients used in products like sunscreen. Microplastic ingredients, if ingested, could potentially be absorbed by our portal veins, may have access to our organs and transfer through our blood-brain and placental barriers. If you want to know more about the (micro)plastics and their potential health risks, visit Plastic Health Coalition website. Microplastic ingredients in the sea also attract and absorb toxic chemicals as if they were little magnets and sponges. The particles become polluted and are eaten by fish and other sea animals; the ingested microplastics can then be passed along the marine food chain. Since humans are ultimately at the top of this chain, it is likely that we also take in microplastics and/or their additives.
What are the effects of microplastics in the environment?
Microplastics have a damaging effect on marine life because marine animals often mistake them for food. They are passed along the marine food chain and since humans are ultimately at the top of this food chain it is likely that we also eat these tiny plastic particles. In addition to this, plastic is not biodegradable and once microplastics enter the marine environment, they are impossible to remove. Because of this, microplastics in cosmetics ultimately contribute to the plastic soup swirling around the world’s oceans.
Is there any scientific evidence that microplastics pollute the oceans?
Yes, there is already much scientific evidence of microplastic pollution, such as the findings of Professor Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) who also coined the term. These findings are published in journals like Marine Pollution Bulletin or Environmental Science and Technology. The full implications of microplastic pollution, including consequences for human health, are not yet entirely known. The presence of microplastics in aquatic environments is now recognized as a serious global environmental issue; however, cosmetics are not the only source of microplastic pollution. Most microplastics are the result of fragmentation of larger pieces of plastic. Other sources of microplastics include the shedding of microfibers by synthetic clothing or microplastic loss from car tires.
Is there a list of all microplastic ingredients that are used?
There are no comprehensive lists of all synthetic polymers that can be considered as microplastic ingredients. Up until 2019, our campaign was based on research conducted and published by UNEP and the Belgian Tauw. Today, with the restriction proposal by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), we have come across more than 550 microplastic ingredients widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. This information can be quite daunting, which is why we created four product categories: Red, Orange, Green, and Zero. Have a look at our Guide to Microplastics page for more information.
Why has Beat the Microbead changed its focus?
When we started the Beat the Microbead campaign in 2012, our focus was solely on the five ingredients most commonly known to be used as microbeads in cosmetic products: Polyethylene (PE), Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), Polypropylene (PP), Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. That is why the BTMB app, which we launched in 2012, only focused on these five plastic ingredients. Now, thanks to the extensive research done by the European Chemical Agency, we know there are more than 550 microplastic ingredients widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. You will find microplastic ingredients not only in scrubs but also in products like lipstick, eyeliner, sunscreen and other everyday products. The Beat the Microbead campaign grows wider in scope to accommodate research surrounding microplastic ingredients.
What are rinse-off and leave-on products?
Rinse-off products are intended to be washed off after application on the skin and hair. These include shower gels and shampoos. Leave-on products are intended to stay on the skin and include body creams, sunscreens, hair sprays and oils, etc. Currently, the majority of bans on microplastics pertain only to rinse-off products and disregard leave-on products. We want to restrict the use of microplastics in all consumer or industrial products. That is why Beat the Microbead does not refer to rinse-off or leave-on products, but to cosmetic products in general.
Are there any microplastic-free products?
It is vital for conscious consumers to know that the cosmetics they buy are free of all microplastic ingredients. Otherwise, they might still be polluting the seas without realizing it. We decided to challenge the burden of proof. Instead of consumers having to check labels that are difficult to understand, we ask producers to sign a statement asserting that their cosmetics are completely free of microplastic ingredients. Companies that make a public statement that their products are 100% free of microplastic ingredients are allowed to use our Look for the Zero logo.
Has there been political activity seeking to put a ban on microplastic ingredients?
Yes and No. In December 2015, President Obama signed US-wide legislation after a number of states had introduced a ban. Since then, France, the United Kingdom (Northern Ireland, Wales, England, and Scotland), Taiwan, South Korea, Sweden, and New Zealand have also banned microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics. Following these countries, India recently announced a microbead ban which will enter force in 2020. Italy, too, has drafted legislation to ban microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics as of 1 January 2020. In addition, Italy is the first country to ban plastic cotton buds starting in 2019. The European Commission will hopefully introduce a ban as well. As optimistic as this progress sounds, most of these statewide initiatives refer only to rinse-off cosmetics and not to all microplastic ingredients used in cosmetics. Many countries, like Australia, still prefer to rely on voluntary industrial commitments rather than enacting binding legislation. For more information on which countries are banning microplastics, check out our Impact timeline.
What about so-called liquid plastic ingredients?
So-called liquid plastic ingredients encompass any type of synthetic polymer in liquid or water-soluble form. Currently, it is not entirely known if liquid synthetic polymers pose a risk to the environment. We call upon the industrial and scientific sectors to prove that liquid plastics do not pose risks to the aquatic environment.
Why do manufacturers add microplastic ingredients to cosmetics?
Tiny plastic particles are considered pleasant-feeling skin-scrubbers and tend to have a smoother effect than natural ingredients, like nut shells or salt. Different microplastic ingredients in cosmetics have different functions, for example film formation or viscosity regulation. The cosmetics industry uses microplastic ingredients because of these functions and because microplastics fill up products in at a low cost. In some cases, up to 10% of a cosmetic product may be comprised of microplastic ingredients.
Are manufacturers phasing out microplastic ingredients from cosmetics?
In December of 2012, Unilever was the first multinational to announce the phasing out of plastic microbeads from their products worldwide. Other multinationals soon made similar statements. However, the industry uses many loopholes, such as using so-called 'biodegradable' alternatives (see Plastic Soup Foundation's opinion on biodegradable plastics). Most company statements do not refer to the many microplastic ingredients they still use.
How do I dispose products that I already have at home which contain microplastics?
Unfortunately, there is no 'correct' way to dispose of products containing microplastic ingredients. We always recommend two options: the first is to send the product back to the manufacturer and describe why you decided not to use it and that you will stop buying this product as long as it includes microplastics; the second option would be to dispose of your products in the regular house-trash. It will be taken to a landfill or will be incinerated. These are not very environmentally friendly options but at least the microplastics will not end up in the ocean. Check out our ZERO products lists to see which products are 100% free of microplastics!