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How Makeup Pollution Endangers the Ocean
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How Makeup Pollution Endangers the Ocean

Wave Tribe

Do female surfers like to wear makeup? Not when they’re surfing, of course, but when they’re not at the beach.

Published by Wave Tribe

A lot of women wear make up everyday.

The reason I’m wondering is because I happened to find out that 41 percent of Americans between 30 and 59 years old wear makeup on a daily basis while 25 percent wear makeup several times per week.

That’s a lot of makeup being used. In 2018, the global cosmetics market grew by an estimated 5.5 percent. And Americans are actually the biggest cosmetic consumers in the world with an estimated total revenue of 62.46 billion dollars.

This is all well and good for the economy until one realizes that the cosmetic industry can also endanger the environment. And that’s because of one major substance inside these cosmetics.

I’m talking about microbeads.

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are what helps you scrub your dead skin cells off whenever you use an exfoliating body wash or a facial scrub. Since being introduced into the market in 1972, they’re now being used in more than 100 personal care products manufactured by industry giants like L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever.

They’re made of tiny bits of polyethylene plastic which is about 0.5 to 500 micrometres in diameter. While they can be made of natural materials like ground shells or seeds, companies prefer them to be made out of plastic because it’s easier and cheaper to mass produce.

Microbeads are useful because their size allows them to get into hard-to-reach areas. When they’re magnetically charged, they can bind to the surface of specific cells or bacteria which is why they are primarily used by scientists to separate biological materials.

In the cosmetic industry, however, they’re very useful for exfoliating because they are small and hard. It’s easier to use them to rub the debris away from the skin. This is why they are used in various exfoliating products and soaps. It’s even used in some toothpastes to help scrub the teeth’s nooks and crannies that brushes don’t reach.

Microbeads found on a facial scrub.

Microbeads VS Microplastics

Microbeads differ from microplastic in that they are smaller. That’s one of the reasons why nobody realized that they were going to be a problem until it got out of hand.

In the field, microplastics come from a variety of sources but mostly, they are a result of larger single-use plastics that have degraded over time. Microbeads, meanwhile, are purposely manufactured as tiny round beads by the cosmetic industry as a scrubbing ingredient in its personal care and cosmetic products.

Either way, both are not good for the environment. These substances are pollutants that have the potential to negatively impact ecosystems and cause health risks to the human body.

Bad for the Environment

Researchers have estimated that about 808 trillion pieces swirl down American drains every day. As the plastic-laden wastewater is sent through treatment plants, about 99 percent of these beads are extracted and deposited in the sludge.

Unfortunately, this sludge is often used as fertilizer for crops. Which means that when rain pours, these beads are carried by the run-off which deposits them everywhere, including our water supply.

Meanwhile, the remaining one percent that has escaped the sludge is still a source of contamination. That’s because this treated water is released directly into our waterways. And even at one percent, which is equivalent to about 8 trillion microbeads, that’s still overwhelming. It’s enough to cover 300 tennis courts, according to researchers.

Microbeads found by people at the beach.

And because of their tiny size, when taken all together, microbeads have a huge surface area. This allows them to absorb large quantities of toxins and other pollutants. For example, if they’re exposed to persistent organic pollutants like flame retardants which are carcinogenic, they will absorb the toxic chemical. In fact, a single plastic microbead has the capacity to be one million times more toxic than the water around it.

Which means if they are eaten by plankton or fish (which they usually are), it can accumulate in the tissues. Right there, it can release BPA and other chemical additives which make the fish toxic. And if you happen to eat the fish, well, you’re next in line to becoming toxic as well.

Potential Health Risk

Which brings me to the next troubling fact. Microbeads are already in our diet.

A study found that one-quarter of all fish sold in California markets had microplastics and fibers in their guts. That’s why it’s no longer a surprise to find plastic in our poop.

And while there are no long term plastic toxicity studies on humans just yet, this should still be alarming only because plastic is really a toxic substance. And it doesn’t degrade. Which means it’ll be inside our bodies throughout our lifetime continuously seeping whatever toxic by-product into our system.

It’s not as if it’s really effective as a facial scrub anyway. They’re no better at scrubbing the skin than natural particles of shells of seeds. In fact, it may even do more damage than good especially in sensitive skin as they can cause small tears and abrasions in your skin. This can leave your skin vulnerable to harmful skin bacteria entering your skin and causing irritation.

My takeaway from this is that looking good doesn’t have to be harmful for the environment. There are natural and organic alternatives available. And even the smallest choices such as not using products with polyethylene can go a long way to heal the oceans.

— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder

So What’s the Alternative

The good thing is that there is now an effort by major players in cosmetic industry to phase out microbeads. Several states have also taken steps to restrict their use.

The alternative thing to do is to stop using commercial exfoliants and shift to products using natural scrub particles of seed or shell. Check the ingredients in your favorite brand of soap and exfoliating product. If the list includes polypropylene or polyethylene, then discard that product. These two substances are the most common type of plastic used in microbeads.

My takeaway from this is that looking good doesn’t have to be harmful for the environment. There are natural and organic alternatives available, just ask Stephanie. And even the smallest choices such as not using products with polyethylene can go a long way to heal the oceans.

Here at Wave Tribe, that’s what fuels our mission. By creating eco-friendly alternatives in modern surfing gear and products, we hope to shift the green movement forward. During this day and age of climate change and ocean warming, we need to do everything we can to help restore the ocean.

If you’re looking to surf green, check out our stylish and eco-friendly products at our website.


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