Is Your Facial Scrub Causing Widespread Water Pollution?

water pollution facial scrub microbeads

A good facial scrub is essential to healthy skin, but is this seemingly innocent beauty product to blame for massive water pollution?

Life on this planet can’t exist without water, yet water pollution is a major problem for countries around the world. And it’s not only the fault of industrial polluters (although they’ve been allowed to dump horrifying toxins into the water supply for decades). Thanks to hidden ingredients in everyday products, we too are contributing to water pollution without even realizing it.

Many modern exfoliation products contain plastic microbeads that help to slough away dead skin cells. What the makers of these products failed to tell us is that these tiny plastic beads are NOT water soluble. When used, they’re flushed away to water treatment plants that aren’t capable of filtering them out. As a result, the end up in the our oceans, lakes and rivers where they wreak havoc on the ecosystem.

The plastics can be digested by marine life like plankton and mussels and then passed along the food chain to human consumption, according to research by the 5 Gyres Institute. The beads can also attract other pollutants in the water and pass it along to humans.

Here in the U.S., the use of products that contain plastic microbeads is taking a toll on the Great Lakes, which together hold nearly one-fifth of the earth’s surface freshwater. “The highest concentrations were found in 2012 in Lake Erie. Researchers found polyethylene and polypropylene that included traces of aluminum silicate and coal ash, often coming from coal power plants. Some of the samples had 450,000 particles of plastic per square kilometer,” reports EcoWatch.

Of course, making your own facial scrubs and exfoliating masks from edible ingredients is the best way to ensure that your beauty regimen doesn’t encourage water pollution. But if you’re not into DIY, there are other ways to avoid plastic-filled cosmetics. Two Netherlands-based organizations, the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation, teamed up to create a smartphone app that can help consumers steer clear of products that contain these toxic plastic beads.

The app, called “Warning: Plastics Inside!” can be downloaded at the Apple App Store, the Google Play Store, and Windows Phone Store.

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Image: pyxopotamus