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Bead Different: Natural Alternatives to Microplastics

The ban on microbeads in cosmetics has now come into effect in the UK [09/01/18], after a long-awaited Government pledge. Companies will no longer be allowed to manufacture products containing the tiny pieces of plastic, which have hit the news due to their role in ocean pollution. A ban on the sale of cosmetics products containing microbeads will follow this summer.

Microbeads, a specific type of microplastics, are miniscule balls of plastic that have a widespread use in personal care products such as scrubs or toothpastes.

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Trillions of tiny pieces of plastic are accumulating in the world's oceans, lakes and estuaries, harming marine life and entering the food chain. The microbeads in scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes are an avoidable part of this plastic pollution problem. A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean."

For glowing, refreshed skin microbeads needs not apply. At Lush, natural, biodegradable alternatives are available in all of our body and face scrubs. Spin your black pots around to the ingredients list and you’ll read of aduki beans, coarse sea salt, bamboo stem extract and more.

The big, plastic soup problem

You’d be unlikely to order plastic soup from the menu of your favourite restaurant. Unfortunately, birds and marine life across the world don’t have the benefit of choice.

Dr van Sebille of Imperial College London, UK conducted a study on the effect of plastics on birds and seabirds. He said: "We found that 80% of seabird species ingest plastic into their stomach, and that if you weigh that plastic, the amount of plastic that a typical seabird now carries around can be up to 10% of their body weight."

According to the Grantham Institute, also from Imperial College London, the amount of plastic entering the ocean in the year 2010 alone was between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes.

Plastic is prized for being long-lasting and hard-wearing. Its greatest asset is also its greatest flaw. As it fragments and breaks down into smaller particles - due to UV sunlight, chemical and mechanical degradation - it transforms the world’s oceans into a kind of global microplastic soup. The small size of the microplastics that remain are ingested by marine life, and the long-term effects of this are largely unstudied.

UN GESAMP (Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection) believe that the potential effects of microplastics on marine organisms include: physical effects such as obstruction; chemical effects due to transportation of toxic chemicals; impaired health; impacts on population and ecosystems; and dispersal of damaging pathogens.

The alternatives

As other cosmetics brands have moved from traditional exfoliants to microplastics, the inventors at Lush have been discovering more and more biodegradable alternatives to use.

Nature provides all the exfoliation your face and body needs: nuts, including walnuts and almonds, can be ground into different sizes to suit different products; pumice powder is fantastic on harder areas of skin; and caster sugar packs a sweetness that makes it perfect for polishing lips. In June 2016, bamboo stem extract was also introduced to the range. It’s fine and buffing which makes it great in Smuggler’s Soul facial scrub for brightening delicate areas of the face.        

Cosmetic microbeads might only make up a small proportion of microplastics entering the ocean (between 0.01% and 4%), but, according to the Environmental Audit Committee they "are an avoidable environmental problem, and they are the source of microplastics about which most is known".

What a great place to start.

Discover more by viewing an interactive version of the Environmental Audit Committee’s report here, or read it in full here.

"A single shower can result in 100,000 plastic particles entering the ocean." - Mary Creagh, MP

Comments (4)


about 4 years ago

So weird, to think that just one shower can lead up to 100,000 plastic particles… So, how do we prevent this from happening? Does Lushes products have these inside them, or are they from August trying to figure a way out of including these in their products? It's crazy to think that what you think is a natural product, is full of plastic. Save the FISHES
Lush has always avoided using microplastics in their products. Instead they use coarse salt or ground coffee or aduki beans

about 4 years ago

Thank you for continually doing the right things. Xx Please consider removing honey from your products also? It too is unnecessary, greatly harming the bees it's stolen from, and by more indirect effects, our own environment. I have great faith in the people at lush, so I know you will consider all of the implications. Xx

about 4 years ago

I finally cottoned onto how bad microbeads are a couple of months ago and switched to Lush face care products. I couldn't believe the UK were using such damaging ingredients, they are banned in America but not here which really surprised me! I feel I have a clean face and a clear conscience now but I lament all the microbeads I have washed down the drain over the years.
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