Microplastics are currently among the most common topics under discussion concerning environmental threats. This is no wonder - according to the Finnish Environment Institute, microplastics cover about 10 % of the 250 000 tonnes of plastic garbage floating in the oceans of the world. Microplastics slowly gather in the environment and can end up in our systems through aquatic animals. Research has shown that certain ingredients of plastics are harmful for our health. Especially the softeners contained in plastic products, such as phthalates, are carcinogens or in other words substances which promote the formation of cancer.
Microplastics in water systems
Microplastics end up in water systems along with urban runoff and domestic wastewater. The microplastics in urban runoff mostly originate from traffic, the cosmetic and hygiene products contained in domestic wastewater and the washing of clothes made of synthetic fibres. According to the research done in the Viikinmäki wastewater treatment plant in Helsinki, 99 % of microplastics contained in waste water can fortunately be removed during the sewage treatment process. However, the microplastics removed from the wastewater end up in sewage sludge, which makes the utilization of the sewage sludge as for example fertilizer or soil enrichment substance more difficult.
Microplastics in cosmetics
Microplastics are used in cosmetics to add rubbing and cleansing components in toothpastes, shaving gels and exfoliants. From the environmental perspective, this is s short-sighted yet fully conscious decision. Fortunately the use of microplastics in cosmetics has gradually been prohibited, but the implementation of these decisions takes time on the EU level. In Finland, the restrictions and prohibitions related to the use of microplastics are on a voluntary basis. Some countries such as the Great Britain, have prohibited the use of microplastics as of the beginning of 2018. In addition, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland and Taiwan have already prohibited or are prohibiting the use of microplastics. Many companies manufacturing cosmetics follow these guidelines and have started to replace the microplastics contained in their products with biodegradable ingredients.
No microplastics are used in certified natural cosmetics
Organic cosmetics, certified natural cosmetics and cosmetics marked with the Finnish Swan brand are safe choices for the consumer, as no microplastics are contained in their INCI listing. However, at least one of the five most common types of microplastics can be found in the ingredient labelling in other cosmetics, which are carbomer, polyethylene, acrylates/c10–30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, nylon-12 and acrylate copolymer.
Since there are over 500 INCI names for microplastics, we recommend using the free CosmEthics app for recognizing them. The app works so that you scan the barcode of the product with your phone after which the app will give information on the ingredients contained in the product. It is also possible to personalize settings in the app so that it will give warnings of specific ingredients such as plastics.
In natural cosmetics, the grains of microplastics are replaced with natural ingredients such as silicon, seed crust, fine-grounded coffee, salt or sugar. Grainless natural exfoliants are the acids contained in fruit, plants, berries and herbs such as AHA or alpha-hydroxy acid and BHA or beta-hydroxy acid.
Beauty care free from microplastics
The easiest way to start the fight against microplastics in cosmetics is to change the exfoliant and the toothpaste which contain plastic into organic cosmetics, certified natural cosmetics or cosmetics marked with the Swan brand. You can also prepare your own exfoliant by mixing for example lemon juice, sugar and olive oil or coffee grounds and face cream.
Microplastics are also a risk to the water systems in Finland / Press release by the Finnish Environment Institute, March 21, 2017
Is plastic harmful for your health? The plastic enter the cells of a human? Experts answer / Yle, Jenni Frilander, March 15, 2018
Swedish Chemicals Agency proposes national microbead ban for cosmetics / CosmeticsDesign-Europe, January 26, 2016