Research at Plymouth University in UK has shown almost 100,000 tiny 'microbeads' – each a fraction of a millimetre in diameter – could be released in every single application of certain products, such as facial scrubs.
The particles are incorporated as bulking agents and abrasives, and because of their small size it is expected many will not be intercepted by conventional sewage treatment, and are so released into rivers and oceans.
Researchers, writing in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, estimate this could result in up to 80 tonnes of unnecessary microplastic waste entering the sea every year from use of these cosmetics in the UK alone.
"As the study unfolded I was really shocked to see the quantity of microplastics apparent in these everyday cosmetics," said PhD student Imogen Napper, who led the study.
"Currently, there are reported to be 80 facial scrubs in the UK market which contain plastic material, however some companies have indicated they will voluntarily phase them out from their products. In the meantime, there is very little the consumer can do to prevent this source of pollution," Imogen said.
Microplastics have been used to replace natural exfoliating materials in cosmetics and have been reported in a variety of products such as hand cleansers, soaps, toothpaste, shaving foam, bubble bath, sunscreen and shampoo.
For this study, researchers chose brands of facial scrubs which listed plastics among their ingredients, and these were subjected to vacuum filtration to obtain the plastic particles.


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