Why Obama is banning your microbead exfoliator

What are the alternatives to plastic microbeads in exfoliators?
Sugar, salt and almond make for planet-friendly alternatives to microbeads Credit: Rex

This year has started with a victory for natural beauty fans across the globe: 2016 is set to be the year cosmetic formulators begin removing plastics from personal care items. In America the industry is now bound by a new bill signed by President Barack Obama banning micro-beads, most commonly made from plastics. While this bipartisan bill applies to America it is a welcome development for the rest of the world. With the US market, one of the largest for personal care products, taking the lead, brands worldwide will need to follow suit.

For those unaware of the fact that their skincare even contained plastics this is new information. For those of us who have become proficient in weaving our way through an ingredients list for some time, this is welcome news - not just for the naturalness of our products but for the health of the planet too. How so?

Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used for their abrasive quality and most commonly found in your facial or body scrub. Often referred to as exfoliating beads, these particles are washed down the drain, which is where the environmental concerns arise. Too small in size to be filtered and removed at water processing plants they end up polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. This poses a threat to marine wildlife when, unable to be dissolved, they end up working their way into the marine food chain and ultimately our own - studies show feeding sea cucumbers, mussels, barnacles, and some fish ingest these plastic particles. Meanwhile Environmental Science & Technology reports that more than an estimated eight trillion microbeads were entering the US waterways daily - this volume is  enough to coat the surface of 300 tennis courts every day.

So how do we maintain the ‘buff’ in our beauty products? Natural brands and, to be fair, some mainstream brands have been adopting alternative exfoliators for some time now. With success, powdered nutshells, almond meal, salt, sugar and jojoba beads are being used to brighten our skin. Some even dissolve with use leaving less physical matter to work its way into the ocean. If you're looking to upgrade your exfoliator, try these...

Suki Skincare Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser, £32.95

This cleanser uses sugar, which dissolves as you use it.

Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser, £32 for 50ml 

Contains apricot kernel particles, cleverly milled to be spherical, replicating the action of the plastic micro-beads.

Oskia Micro Exfoliating Balm, £46

Micro-silica and MSM beads are employed, dissolving in water.