5 min read

Humans' Obsession With Face Wash May Have Just Left Record-Breaking Damage At Australian Harbor

<p>Flickr: LASZLO ILYES</p>

Skincare is a touchy subject for many, with a litany of products existing to "cure" almost any blemish, flake, or oversized pore. The ostensible results of these products are boasted on their packaging, with promises to tighten, brighten, smooth and moisturize. But what results do these products produce once they've been washed off of your face, and trickle down the drain? The answer is far from aesthetically-pleasing.

A recent report from the Sydney Harbor Research Program found that the plasticity levels in the harbor of Sydney, Australia are at an all-time high, and the major culprits are microbeads: the tiny, plastic scrubbing agents utilized in facial scrubs. According to the report, the harbor had "60 to 100 plastic particles per 100ml of wet harbour sediment." The plastics not only release toxins, but can also block the gut of any unlucky fish who ingest them.

In an op-ed by Charles J. Moore recently published in The New York Times, the oceanographer states that, after spending six weeks with a group of scientists and researchers in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, "We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change."

(Virginia Institute of Marine Science)

Though discussion concerning the hazards of microbeads has been brewing in the United States for some time, the issue has only recently resulted in legislative action. In June, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to successfully ban the use of plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Though it will take a while for the changes to make themselves known (the phase out period for manufacturers is from 2017-2019), this ruling is a big step for other states who are looking to enforce the same measures, such as New York and California. There is even a national movement being spearheaded by New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., who introduced the concept of the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 this June. The act would, as the name implies, ban the usage of microbeads nationwide by the year 2018.

(Flickr: Jason Karn)

What does the cosmetics industry have to say about all this? According to a CBS News report, Laurent Gilbert, director of advanced research at L'Oreal, claims that the plastic exfoliants have "no proven environmental toxicity." Regardless, companies such as Unilever, and yes, even L'Oreal, have announced plans to substitute the plastic beads with natural alternatives.

However, it is important to note that any legislative action will require a phase-out period, and that change is not likely to be quick or timely. Keeping that in mind, it is always a great idea to find your own alternatives to microbeads in your facial products. Companies such as Lush Cosmetics are a great alternative, as their exfoliants are natural (i.e., sand, sugar, sea salt, almonds), ethically sourced, and they do not test any of their products or ingredients on animals.

You can also watch an informative TED talk by science educator Kim Preshoff on the subject of plastic in the oceans here.