Joanna: Scrubbing plastic on your face??!!

It’s that time of the year again, when senior high school students like me have their prom night just around the corner. Living in a society that bases its standards on looks and appearance, I’m sure many of you would have this ‘magical’ product that does the trick before the big night out: exfoliator. Nivea, Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean and Clear etc. Regardless of whether they are drugstore based or high-end brands, a surprisingly prevalent ingredient in these personal care products are microbeads.


So what are microbeads? Microbeads are really tiny plastic particles, usually smaller than two millimeters.  The composition of microbeads can vary and often include polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) or nylon. In simpler terms, microbeads are tiny plastic particles that are found in your everyday personal care products such as exfoliators. Think about this - every time you use these exfoliators that are meant to do the trick for your big night out, it is practically scrubbing plastic on your face!


As someone who is absolutely devoted to making our future a better place and creating a sustainable environment, I am well aware of the microbead issue. To clarify any doubts and brief you on the issue and environmental impact of microbeads, I am going to provide you with some basic facts below:

  1. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles that we use to scrub our faces with on a daily basis that will eventually end up in the fish in our sushi rolls or meals.

  2. There is an alarming rate of fish ingesting microbeads and the toxins absorbed by those tiny particles are transferred to the tissues of these fish and then get consumed by us humans.

  3. Microbeads were patented in the 1970’s, but have only been used as a disposable entity in consumer products recently. Currently there are many hundreds of brands worldwide that use plastic for body care and cleansing and each year more and more products have plastic microbeads as their main exfoliating ingredient.

  4. A single microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it! Crazy right? Absolutely!


If we take a peek inside my bathroom now, there are three exfoliators next to my spa tub.

  1. St Ive’s Green tea Scrub

  2. Skinfood NZ Exfoliator

  3. Soda&Co Sugar Scrub

None of these products contain any microbeads or plastic particles as they are all organic with natural ingredients. So how do I know that these products don’t contain any microbeads? Most people have no idea that those little beads are actually bits of plastic! In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires companies to disclose the type of plastic in the ingredients list if a product contains microbeads, but in New Zealand there are no such requirements. Generally, it is hard to tell whether products contain microbeads or not. So I am going to share a tip for your convenience. If you see any of the following ingredients in your personal care products - polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate or polymethyl methacrylate - you’re cleaning up with plastic and being duped into contributing to plastic pollution in the environment—yikes!!!


July is Plastic Free month, so I encourage you to have a look at your personal beauty regime as well as in your bathroom. An estimated 10% of the volume of a single given beauty product can be made up of plastic microbeads - do any of yours contain them? The challenge is up for take, let’s change the world starting from that tube or bottle with microbeads in your bathroom today :)


Joanna Tao


Intern at Plastic Diet

Youth Ambassador at Sustainable Coastlines

Crew Member at Raise Up Crew

MAD student leader

Youth Environmental Representative


16 || AKL || NZ

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