Over the past few years tiny beads made from plastic, called microbeads, have found their way as an ingredient in some cosmetic products intended for exfoliating the skin. Exfoliating removes the outer, dead layer of skin. Why these plastics ever became a staple for some companies has been a mystery to me in a day and age when many of us are so conscious of plastic being a source of pollution in waterways. Thankfully, President Obama recently signed a bill to ban these ingredients in cosmetics, the Microbead-free WatersAct of 2015 HR 1321, after unanimous approval by the U.S. House of Representatives.
These plastic beads are not biodegradable and when they go down the drain they end up in aquatic habitats and make up a large part of the pollution in lakes. Their small size makes it possible for fish to eat them thinking that they are food.
The ban takes effect January 1, 2018 so companies currently using these beads have time to reformulate their products. Products that use microbeads include body and face scrubs meant for exfoliation. Brands include Clinique, Rite Aid, Kiehl's, Victoria's Secret, Bath and Body Works, Aveeno, Estee Lauder, and even Crest Toothpaste.
There are many options in the formulators tool kit, however, for exfoliation and I've always questioned why these plastic microbeads became so popular. They have no real benefits over other materials used for exfoliation.
What are some options for exfoliation?
Salt is one of the best exfoliants for the body and it is easy to find salt scrubs to use on the skin while taking a shower. You can find them in these botanical salt scrubs. Just rub them on and rinse off for a nice silky feel. Sea salt is rich in other minerals (besides just sodium and chloride) including magnesium which can help with skin hydration. Salt is said to be good at flushing toxins from the skin and is particularly good for acne. I recently came across this quote that I adore by author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen);
" The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea."
Salt can be irritating on broken or sensitive skin. That is why we use sugar as an exfoliant for hands and feet, although salt is perfect there as well.
Sometimes salt can be a little too course for the face so there are other options. Fruit acids also known as alpha hydroxy acids are often incorporated into exfoliants used for the face. Alpha hydroxy acids include malic acid, lactic acid, and glycolic acid. You can find them in Starbright Brightening Mask. Beta hydroxy acids are also used for exfoliation.
Jojoba beads are small wax beads made from jojoba. They are similar to microbeads in that they are small, round and smooth so good for a mild exfoliation. However, unlike microbeads, they are not plastic and so are completely biodegradable and safe for the environment. They do melt though if they get too hot. You can find them in Meadow Mist Facial Cleanser.
Clay is a good staple for exfoliation and can be found in many forms including kaolin clay, bentonite clay, rhassoul clay, green clay and black clay - all with different properties. Try this herbal clay mask.
These are just a few exfoliants that we tend to use. But there are also a host of others you can choose from that include fruit seeds such as blueberry and strawberry seeds. Ground herbs in general are good exfoliators and we use a lot of that in our soaps. But many people will use ground walnut shell powder and ground bamboos. You can even grind almonds at home to use as a nice, mild facial exfoliator.
It is important to do a gentle exfoliation both on the face and the body a few times a week, as removing the dead skin cell build up helps your skin care products absorb better so they can do their job.
What exfoliants do you like to use?