Microbead ban: The effects and the natural alternative

There’s nothing we appreciate more than seeing a true step towards environmental protection rolled out on a large scale. Which is exactly what happened in the USA, when the government passed a law on December 28th last year banning the use of synthetic microbeads in all cosmetic products.

Here at Glasshouse, we were aware of these little plastic particles, which can usually be spotted in mainstream cleansers, exfoliators, shower gels and toothpastes, however we didn’t know the full extent of the danger they pose to the environment. At less than 5mm wide, these beads act as little scrubbers on the skin and are made from synthetic materials which don’t biodegrade after disappearing down our sinks and into the waterways.

Although we’ve been switched on to the benefits of more natural cosmetic products for a while, the beauty industry has taken longer to clock on. A study published in the Environmental Science and Tech journal in September 2015 estimates that 8 trillion microbeads pass through sewage systems in America and are deposited into aquatic habitats every single day.

They pose a threat to aquatic creatures - who mistake them for food with the beads either suffocating them or becoming lodged in their system. On top of this, the particles can take hundreds of years to break down, contributing massively to the ecosystem, and in particular the world’s oceans.

So we got to thinking more generally about our own beauty routines - what to avoid and how to get the same scrubbed-up, exfoliated feeling without harming the environment. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a typical exfoliator can contain roughly as much micro plastics as its plastic packaging - and although the beads can give the feeling of a deep clean, natural alternatives are offering more skincare benefits as well as remaining eco-friendly at the same time. Double bonus!

Exfoliating any area of the face or body allows the skin to shed dead skin cells, unblock pores and improve blood circulation, hopefully resulting in that much-desired healthy-looking glow. From sugar to ground almonds, exfoliation can come in all shapes and forms (and even from our supermarket shelves).

Elsie is one half of the duo at Clean Beauty Co; the internet’s answer to the best DIY recipes for at-home natural remedies. The girls hands-on approach means they’re totally clued up on some of the most effective ingredients for exfoliating: “Natural exfoliants are one of the easiest things to make yourself and you can usually find the ingredients you need in your kitchen cupboard” says Elsie, “Our favourite is coffee as it exfoliates without being too abrasive on the skin, plus its natural caffeine content stimulates blood flow and encourages cell rejuvenation”.

Elsie also recommends Pink Himalayan Salt - “It’s a great detoxifying option as it draws out impurities from the skin whilst also containing a range of minerals and nutrients” states Elsie.

Someone who knows a thing or two about the endless perks of Pink Himalayan Salt is East London apothecary whiz, Guy Morgan (the ingredient forms part of his organic pink bath salts we find ourselves soaking up every bath time). When it comes to exfoliation, Guy’s White Marble clay mask is an all-in-one exfoliator and mask that can be used as often as every other day for increased clarity and softness.

“It uses a blend of pumice stone, fine marble dust and organic rice powder to exfoliate skin” says Guy “Finely ground pumice and marble stone are a great natural alternative to plastic beads and are gentle yet effective enough to use every other day to maintain a healthy skin cell turnover”.

With so many natural options out there, it’s a wonder that cosmetic microbeads have been allowed to remain on the mass market for so long. There’s been no official findings to suggest that they are beneficial to the skin, and with such a multitude of research highlighting their negative environmental impact we couldn’t be more pleased that the law has been passed in the US (hopefully rolling the ball for a UK law to be passed too).

So we’ve put together a mini-guide for a few of our go-to exfoliators, all available at Glasshouse Shop or to be made at home. Get scrubbing.

Guy Morgan White Marble Clay Mask

We know we’ve already mentioned this multi-use wonder product, but it really is one of our bathroom shelf favourites. It contains three types of clay (Kaolin, Calcium Bentonite and Rhassoul) which are great for removing toxins and giving dry, flaky skin the full nourishing works. Rice powder is the gentle exfoliator in this product, perfect for soothing irritating skin and giving that fresh, scrubbed feeling. Did we mention the beautiful apothecary-style glass jars? Love!

Sans (Ceuticals) Bio Active Body Exfoliant

This New Zealand brand is a firm fixture at Glasshouse - their ethos of pure, clean skin and haircare is totally up our street and the products speak for themselves. Their all-over body exfoliant contains a base of sustainable, ultra-fine bamboo granules and organic shea butter - rich in minerals and silica which gently exfoliates without causing inflammation like plastic microbeads too. This can be used everywhere (body, face and even flaky lips) once a week for total rejuvenation.

Morihata Binchotan Facial Puff and Scrub Towel

Steering away from traditional exfoliators, this little dark grey puff is formulated from purifying Japanese Binchotan charcoal and the roots of a vegetable fibre called Konjac - which is rich in minerals and super detoxifying. The sponge can be used with or without soap, it’s 100% natural and should last a few months. The towel also contains the charcoal, woven into high performance polyester fibre and cotton. Use all over in the shower with soap and reap the benefits of this purifying natural resource - a truly modern exfoliator option!

DIY Honey and Almond Scrub

Finally, we’ve delved back into the Fix Yourself with Nature archives and are revisiting our Honey and Almond Scrub. Raw almonds are blitzed up with honey for a gentle scrub, ideal for tired winter skin. Nourishing and also quite delicious, this is a great at-home alternative.

Image: Konstantinos Noulis
Image: Konstantinos Noulis

We hope you’re feeling as inspired as we are to ditch the plastics in favour of natural exfoliators - the benefits are endless and the eco-effect can’t be argued with. So for a little environmental protection (and not forgetting skin protection) make the natural scrub switch - we promise you’ll love it.

Words: Lucy Vincent
Cover image: Sarah Hogan Photography

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