Ingredients to Avoid: Microbeads

After the response I got to my surprisingly non-vegetarian foods post (and a huge thankyou to for sharing it around, I’m so glad it was helpful!) I thought I would start a new series here on I Spy Plum Pie, focusing on ingredients we should all be avoiding. Sometimes it will be a food, and other times something that shows up in skincare, makeup or other household items and we’re kicking things off with microbeads!

ingredients to avoid microbeads

First things first, what are microbeads?

Microbeads are those tiny little beads that are commonly found in facial scrubs, soaps and other exfoliating products, as well as in toothpaste. They are made from plastic, so every time we use them we are washing thousands of little plastic beads down our sinks and into our waterways (some products can contain over 300,000 beads per tube!).


Image source: 5 Gyres

Why is this a problem?

The beads are too small to be picked up by sewage filtration systems, so they are ending up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. There, fish are mistaking them for food and eating them, which is unsurprisingly not great for the fish! Even worse, the microbeads tend to absorb any toxins present in the water, which are then leeched into the fish after they eat the beads, and this toxicity can be spread into other fish and animals further up the food chain, including humans.

At present there is no known method for removing them from our waterways without also removing important species like plankton (who are equally as tiny as the microbeads), so the best way to help improve the situation is to make sure no more microbeads are ending up in our waterways in the first place.

What is being done?

A number of States in the US have passed laws (or are in the process of doing so) banning products with microbeads, and a number of European countries are following suit, although the bans won’t fully come into place for a few more years. Thankfully most of the big players in the skincare market have agreed to phase out the use of microbeads, with Unileaver committing to stop using plastics in all its products by 2015,  with Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, and L’Oreal also beginning to phase them out. So far in Australia only the New South Wales Government has made any push to ban microbeads, with the Environment Minister calling for a national ban and leading an industry group to consider introducing the ban.

What are the alternatives?

Luckily there are many planet-friendly alternatives to microbeads so you won’t have to stop exfoliating all together (and you can use something much nicer than rubbing your face with plastic!). Many brands use walnut shells, sugar, salt, coffee beans, oats or coconut husks to provide the exfoliation. The website Beat the Microbeads has country specific product lists which show products that do and don’t use microbeads, so it’s worth checking to see if your favourite product is on the red list or green list! Personally, I’m a big fan of the Sukin facial scrub which uses walnut shells & bamboo extract as its exfoliants (in fact, I’m a big fan of Sukin all round!)

You could always make your own face and body scrubs at home using salt, oats, coffee grounds or brown sugar mixed with coconut oil and your favourite essential oil – then you’ll know exactly what’s in it!

Here’s a great infographic I found while researching this topic


Image source: 5 Gyres Campaign

It’s all a bit worrying isn’t it! At the very least it’s easy for us to make sure we’re not contributing to the problem, and hopefully some strong action will occur at an international level soon to help ensure no more microbeads are entering our poor waterways.

Hopefully this has been helpful! I’d love to hear what your favourite microbead-free products are as well!

Join the Weekly News & get my Meal Planning 101 Guide!

14 Comments on Ingredients to Avoid: Microbeads

  1. Bele @ BlahBlah
    October 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm (10 years ago)

    I’m so happy Unilever have agreed to phase them out. I didn’t know that. It’s such a shame they were being used at all. Sometimes cost cutting for companies can mean we all end up paying the price elsewhere.
    I make my own. Thankfully they’re really easy to make x
    Bele @ BlahBlah recently posted…Minestrone to soothe the soul

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      October 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm (10 years ago)

      They definitely are easy to make! Lucky there are also some great Australian companies who avoid using them as well!

  2. Katherine
    October 29, 2014 at 7:15 pm (10 years ago)

    This is so eye-opening, Liz! I’m sure I’m not the only person who hadn’t thought of this before. Thanks so much for sharing and for caring about the environment enough to look into it and spread the message x
    Katherine recently posted…Where Are You Tolerating Less Than The Best In Your Life?

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      October 29, 2014 at 7:35 pm (10 years ago)

      My pleasure lovely, thankyou for your lovely comment! Expect more of these kinds of posts from me in the future! xx

  3. Lucy @ Bake Play Smile
    October 30, 2014 at 7:07 am (10 years ago)

    Wow this is really interesting. I had always wondered about those products but had never really realised what they were doing. Looking forward to this new series!

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      October 30, 2014 at 11:03 am (10 years ago)

      Thanks lovely, glad to hear it was useful!

  4. merilyn
    October 30, 2014 at 8:12 am (10 years ago)

    this is such a good informative article liz!
    it’s been a project this year to eliminate as many nasties from my regeme! … I am mainly using sukin products ie body wash etc but I am making my own deodorants etc now with natural ingredients … I like coconut oil for my face and I swish my teeth with it too and discard in bin. I use bicarb for my teeth as I hate toothpaste! Himalayan seasalt in water for my hair jooshing! … I’ve now made a vitamin c serum which is lovely too … pretty well cleaned up my debris here! I subscribe to david Suzuki’s ideal! <3 it! m:)X

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      October 30, 2014 at 11:05 am (10 years ago)

      Impressive work Merilyn! Sounds like you’re well across this stuff! Sukin products are such a good alternative when you can’t make your own aren’t they! Plus they’re not expensive either which is even better!

  5. Hollie
    October 30, 2014 at 10:49 pm (10 years ago)

    This was an amazing read Liz!
    I’ve never been a fan of microbead products and now I’m even more against them. Ugh, and to think we’re washing our bodies with plastic – that’s just plain gross!

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      October 31, 2014 at 9:07 am (10 years ago)

      Thanks Hollie! I’m so glad everyone found this so useful! It really is odd to think about the fact we’re washing ourselves with plastic isn’t it? Thankfully there are some excellent alternatives out there!

  6. Sarah
    November 1, 2014 at 11:03 pm (10 years ago)

    Thanks so much for this post Liz. I had no idea that microbeads were plastic! I’ll definitely be avoiding them from now on. Thanks for the tip about Sukin’s facial scrub too. I’m a big fan of their body wash but haven’t tried their other products.

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      November 2, 2014 at 9:04 am (10 years ago)

      My pleasure Sarah, I’m just so glad it’s been so useful! If only companies had to be more clear with their labels! The Sukin scrub is one of my favourite of their products, so I hope you like it!

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      March 20, 2015 at 9:17 pm (9 years ago)

      Definitely! Thanks so much for sharing


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge