Natural Health News — Everyday cosmetic and cleaning products contain huge quantities of plastic particles, which are released to the environment and could be harmful to marine life, according to a new study.
Research at Plymouth University 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 tiny size it is expected many will not be filtered out by conventional sewage treatment, and are so released into rivers and oceans.
» Mircobeads – minute pieces of plastic – are used in cosmetic and cleaning products for their abrasive and bulking properties.
» They are too tiny to be filtered otu by conventional sewage treatment and so get washed out into rivers and oceans where they have become a huge source of pollution.
» A new analysis by researchers ay Plymouth University has found there are more microbeads in an average facial scrub product then previously assumed – between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles in a 150ml product.
Polluting our oceans
Researchers, writing in 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.
Study leader Imogen Napper, said: “As the study unfolded I was really shocked to see the quantity of microplastics apparent in these everyday cosmetics. 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.”
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.
There is growing evidence that the amount of plastics in marine waters is increasing, with around 700 species of marine organism being reported to encounter marine debris in the natural environment, and plastic debris accounts for over 90% of these encounters.
Is your facial scrub part of the problem?
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.
Subsequent analysis using electron microscopy showed that each 150ml of the products could contain between 137,000 and 2.8 million microparticles.
Another of the study’s authors, Professor Richard Thompson, a Professor of Marine Biology who has been studying the effects of litter in the marine environment for over 20 years, said: “Using these products leads to unnecessary contamination of the oceans with millions of microplastic particles. There is considerable concern about the accumulation of microplastics in the environment; our previous work has shown microplastics can be ingested by fish and shellfish and there is evidence from laboratory studies of adverse effects on marine organisms.”
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