The Devastating Effects of your Skincare Regime

Is your facewash destroying the environment? If you are using a facewash containing exfoliating beads then, according to numerous studies, yes. These exfoliating beads are made of non-biodegradable plastic. This means that every time you wash your face, you are sending hundreds of tiny plastic beads down the drain. Since they are so small, they cannot be filtered out and are sent straight into the ocean. You may ask that since they are so tiny they can’t be too harmful to the environment, right? Wrong. Due to their small size, microbeads are mistakenly ingested by many marine animals, many of whom are killed due to the plastic clogging their digestive tracts which results in starvation (Allsopp, Greenpeace International). If animals starving to death is not a concern of yours, it is important to note that this microplastic problem could have a significant impact on human beings since we ingest marine animals. This means that we are indirectly ingesting microplastics.

There are many ways for the microplastic beads to be spread once they are in the ocean. First, they are very light-weight which makes them very easy to be picked up by the wind and transferred elsewhere. Second, since they are so tiny they can be ingested by lower and higher trophic levels. When microbeads are eaten by lower trophic levels, these animals are then eaten by the higher trophic levels, which include humans. The most significant reason why microplastics are affecting animals all over the world is that people are using exfoliating face washes and other cosmetic items containing microplastics all over the world. Studies have been done all over the world to prove that microplastics from facial scrubs are infesting oceans. In a study in Hong Kong, researchers discovered numerous small spheres floating on the coastal waters. In order to determine if it originated from a cosmetic product the researchers obtained a face scrub, boiled it, and passed it through a filter. After drying the mixture that passed through the filter, they discovered very similar spheres. After analyzing them they found that they are made of the same type of plastic (Cheung, The Education Institution of Hong Kong, Marine Pollution Bulletin). Their experiment shows that the plastic in our face scrubs are passing through filtration systems and ending up in the ocean.

Some may say that while these microplastics are in the oceans, they are too small to have any significant adverse effects on the environment. However, this argument can be disproven by a study done on oysters by Sussarellu et al. In her study oysters were exposed to six micrometer plastic spheres during a reproductive cycle. She found that the oysters exposed to the microplastics had decreased oocyte numbers, oocyte diameter, and sperm velocity compared to that of the control oysters. In addition to this, “the D-larval yield and larval development of offspring derived from exposed parents decreased by 41% and 18%, respectively, compared with control offspring” (Sussarellu, Laboratory of Sciences of the Marine Environment, PNAS). These results show that the reproductive systems of these oysters that were exposed to microplastics were severely affected. Therfore, microbeads have the potential to cause a significant decrease in oyster population. Overall this tells the reader that microplastics have a very significant effect on the marine ecosystem and that a lot of damage has already been done.

There have been experiments conducted aiming to remove the plastic microbeads from the ocean, but it has not been studied extensively and the technology utilized may not even be able to capture the smaller microbeads. A lot of damage has already been done to the marine ecosystem, so now it is time to prevent further damage. All you needs to do to prevent more microbeads from getting into the ocean is to cease using cosmetic products that contain these microbeads. There are many other skin care products made without exfoliating beads that will not endanger any creatures. If you must remove every speck of dead skin from your face you could use exfoliants made out of natural products such as sugar, oatmeal, and crushed apricot seeds. Using these products instead of microplastic products will keep our oceans clean and save an innumerable amount of animals from death.

Leah Ramkelawan


(“Plastic” by Joao Salazar, CC 0)

Works Cited

Allsopp, M., Walters, A., Santillo, D., Johnston, P. (2006). Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Greenpeace International.

Cheung, P. K., Fok, L. (2016). Evidence of microbeads from personal care product contaminating the sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 109 (2016), 582–585.

Sussarellua, R., Suqueta, M. , Thomasa, Y. , Lamberta,C., Fabiouxa, C. , Perneta, M.E.J. , Goïca, N.L. , Quilliena, V. , Minganta, C. , Epelboina, Y., Corporeaua, C. , Guyomarchb, J. , Robbensc, J.,Paul-Ponta, I. , Soudanta, P. , Huveta, A. (2016). Oyster reproduction is affected by exposure to polystyrene microplastics. PNAS, 113 (9), 2430–2435.

This entry was posted in Conservation Biology Posts, Conservation Editorials 2016. Bookmark the permalink.

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