States are cracking down and imposing regulations on one of the biggest trends in the face wash industry in the past few years. Environmentalists are emphatically claiming that microbeads, the tiny plastic beads found in a variety of face washes, could be harmful to the Earth’s water supply.
The purpose of adding microbeads to face washes is because the tiny beads serve to exfoliate the skin, and with the microbeads being a gentler option than using pumice or other exfoliation methods, they have quickly become been a popular trend in the last few years. Researchers, however, are now saying that these small plastic beads, which are about as tiny as the tip of a ballpoint pen, are too small to be filtered out of the water treatment plants after they are washed down sinks. The beads are ending up in the oceans and lakes, and because they are not biodegradable, they may be causing harm to the environment.
Because microbeads are a relatively new environmental factor however, scientists have not been able to conduct nearly enough research to determine exactly how detrimental adding microbeads to facewash is to the environment, or just what the long term effects of them ending up in the ocean and lakes will be. However, they have gathered at least enough evidence to suggest that the microbeads are likely to have detrimental effect on the environment.
Although the effects of microbeads are still under investigation by environmental researchers, five states – Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Ohio, and California – have already proposed legislation and are considering bills that would ban the use of microbeads. Meanwhile, one company that produces face washes that contain microbeads is making plans to eliminate them from their products by 2017. Johnson & Johnson, which produces Clean & Clear and Neutrogena, has already made an announcement that they plan to halt the use of microbeads in any new products they manufacture in the future. Additionally, the company also plans to reformulate the products that currently contain them. Proctor & Gamble, which makes the brand Olay, has also made a similar announcement.
So why should states bother to propose bills prohibiting microbeads if the companies that produce microbead products are on board with eliminating them? Environmental advocacy groups that are drafting legislation say that this is a way to ensure that the big companies, whatever promises they might be making now, will toe the new regulatory line. Additionally, the legislation will also serve to keep smaller companies from getting away with using microbeads. Companies often do not keep their promises, or conveniently “forget” about promises they have made when under scrutiny, so it is important that the bills get passed, advocacy groups say.
Significant progress is being made in the states in regards to the legislation. In a 54-0 vote earlier this month, the Illinois Senate passed the measure that would ban the manufacture of microbeads starting December 31, 2017, and would further ban the sale of existing product containing the beads effective December 31, 2018. Meanwhile, in New York, the legislation is moving on to the state house, with progress being made in California as well.
Since learning that the microbeads in their face wash could have a negative impact on the environment, companies have promised to replace the plastic beads with something more environmentally friendly. There is no definite word yet on what that will be, though some environmentalists have suggested apricot shells and crushed walnuts, among other natural exfoliates.
By Laura Clark