What Are Microbeads? And What to Look Out For

Toothpaste and other cosmetic products such as face washes and body scrubs that contain microbeads aren’t permitted to be sold in the UK, doing so has been illegal since June 2018.

Rinse-off cosmetics, including toothpaste that contained minuscule plastic particles, could legally no longer be produced after January 2018, and any products were taken off the shelves in June of that year as a result of the new ruling.

This essentially means that any toothpaste that is purchased in England, Wales or Scotland should not contain microbeads.

Of course, if you’re buying from an online marketplace, there is always the possibility that a third-party seller is importing foreign products. But if you want to make sure, carefully look at the ingredients (we’ll cover this more later) or turn your attention to natural alternatives instead.

What Are Microbeads?

Microbeads are minuscule plastic particles, often smaller than 2mm. For many years, they were used in industrial and consumer products, such as toothpaste, face scrubs and body washes.

Back in 2014 the dental hygienist Trish Walraven noticed that plastic flecks from toothpaste were found embedded in the gums of her patients, which prompted Trish to start her own investigations.

During her inquiry, she discovered that these blue particles that she repeatedly noticed in her patient’s gums were actually microbeads, which don’t dissolve in either alcohol or acetone. She pointed out that the makers of the offending toothpaste, Crest, weren’t explicitly stating that they were using polyethene on their ingredient’s lists either.

Ms Walraven also voiced her fear that these beads were getting trapped in the sulcus – the narrow space between the teeth and gums. Her primary concern was that these tiny pieces of plastic could trap germs in this crevice, causing gingivitis and other oral health conditions.

In addition to this, we now know that these tiny pieces of plastic are able to bypass water filtration and will float out to sea, causing the transportation of harmful chemicals that impact marine life.

This brought public attention to the issue, and a petition was circulated to ban the use of microbeads, which fetched more than 300,000 signatures.

How Can You Tell if a Product Contains Microbeads?

As we’ve already mentioned, you won’t find any cosmetic product or toothpaste on the UK market that contains microbeads. However, it’s a different story to products bought online from overseas.

In very few cases will a manufacturer explicitly state whether their product contains microbeads or not. In most cases, you’ll need to spend some time studying the list of ingredients before being able to determine this.

Look out for the following ingredients:

  • Polyethene terephthalate
  • Polyethene
  • Polypropylene
  • Polylactic acid (PLA)
  • Polystyrene
  • Nylon

These are the most common plastics associated with microbeads. So, if your cosmetic product contains any of these ingredients, it’s highly likely that it includes microbeads, which means it should be avoided altogether.

The Strive Natural Toothpaste Recommendations

These days, there are so many different kinds of natural toothpastes on the market, many of which we have tried ourselves, or will try in the future. We’d recommend the following natural toothpaste brands, which, of course, are entirely microbead free:

  • Happybrush SuperClean
  • Kingfisher
  • Himalaya Botanique
  • Geoorganics
  • Pro Teeth Whitening Co.

Resources for Checking Microbead & Microplastic Content

  • Beat the Microbead – this website allows you to search for a brand of a product to see if it may contain microplastic.
  • The Good Scrub Guide – Fauna & Flora have released this guide, which lists safe face and body scrubs. Whereas this guide features microbead-free toothpaste and other bathroom products.
  • Greenpeace – This article from Greenpeace examines what different companies promised to do in regards to reducing microplastic pollution.

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