A few weeks, a reader wrote to me saying she was concerned about the environmental aspect of glitter in beauty products. It had genuinely never occurred to me that there was an impact from plastic glitter on the environment. So, I asked her if she would mind doing a bit of research and write a guest post on the subject, and she did, so many thanks to Catherine Flutsch for this post. It’s a timely call-out for beauty brands – we really can’t do without glitter in beauty world so quit being so tight and start using it responsibly.
“One day, while I was browsing the user reviews for a glittery bath bomb, a comment caught my eye. A marine biologist had written about the damaging effects of glitter in the ocean. I’d never considered that anything I put in water that’s too small to be filtered out, will eventually end up in the ocean. Plastic in the ocean physically breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Scientists have shown that filter feeding animals easily ingest these tiny pieces of plastic. As soon as that happens, the plastic particles and any chemicals in them are in our food chain.
I stopped using glittery bath bombs the day that I read the marine biologist’s comment. But I did miss the brilliant sparkle on the many grey, wet days we had last year. So much plastic is already in our oceans (around 300,000 bits per sq km at last count), surely my teeny, glittery bath bomb wouldn’t make any difference?
The more I’ve read about this issue, the more angry I’ve become with the cosmetics companies. They are all very well aware of the issue but, like so many other inconveniences, seem to be trying to keep it quiet from consumers or explain it away. There are alternatives to using glitter in beauty products that are available right now – edible glitters used in cake decorating for one. But guess what? They’re a bit more expensive than using cheap bits of plastic. Finely ground up coconut husk is a brilliant, biodegradable way to exfoliate but once again, it’s more expensive.
If you care about this issue, the best way to do something about it is to stop buying products containing bits of plastic that will end up in water. Even better, politely tell the companies. Eventually, the message does get heard by the people who are making the decisions.
Occasionally, you might be pleasantly surprised. I mentioned to a sales person at Lush that I would not buy a glittery bath bomb because of the plastics issue. Instead of looking at me as though I were mad (like most other cosmetics sales people do when I mention this) she apologised for the glitter and then pointed out all the products that contained environmentally friendly sparkly alternatives. She also mentioned that Lush’s aim is to phase out all glitter soon. Kudos to Lush for educating their sales force on this issue and for proactively doing something about it!”
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Thanks to both of you for this interesting post! I recently went to an exhibition on the effect of plastics on the marine environment which was a real eye-opener. I had never given any thought to what was being used as exfoliating beads in facial and body scrubs and was horrified to read that many companies, including expensive brands, were using plastic – which ultimately gets washed into the ocean and pollutes the environment. For example, the main ingredient in a sample of Bobbi Brown’s Buffing Grains I have at home is polyethylene. Yuck! It definitely pays to read the INCI list really carefully and buy accordingly.
Such an interesting article! I dot use glittery bath products, but of course there is some in my makeup. I’m sure many folk won’t have considered how such tiny pieces of plastic harm the environment! Xo
What a fantastic post! I too had never considered this issue before but it has now highlighted to me the very importance of it. Have to hand it to Lush, they are an example of how every beauty product provider should be – their sales staff are always friendly as well as knowledgeable, they carry a great line of products and they appear to have environmental issues at heart.
Sorry if my comment last week about this seemed snippy – I was replying in a bit of a hurry. Great post – I think consumer pressure is a very good way to get the companies to change their practices, so the more people who know about the issue the better. Like Catherine, it had never occurred to me that the teeny beads would end up in ocean animals, but now I know I will never buy such products again, even if it means a little more careful scrutiny of labels.
what a brilliant post. It had never occured to me, and I am glad someone has highlighted this issue. I will try and do my bit. Thank you
That post has stopped me in my tracks and made me reach for my 7 day scrub cream. 10th ingredient is polyethylene. I’m going to feel really guilty using that now. But I do think the water companies ought to do more to remove pollution from sewage before the waste water gets back into the rivers. Can anyone suggest a good non plastic scrub and non apricot stone exfoliator?
I haven’t tried it but just started looking at Sephora’s website beginning with brands that I like to see what ones have microplastics & see if there are any that don’t. REN has a Jojoba Microbead Purifying Facial Polish.
very eye opening, thanks!
I read something similar a few days ago, confirming that Unilever will phase out the use of plastic exfoliating micro beads, in their products –
What an enlightening post! ‘I will now scrutinise my body scrub ingredients. I had no idea that these products are causing so much harm to our environment.
Really insightful post, it is something that isn’t really thought about. A lot of ‘gimmicks’ that don’t have a after thought long term. Many thanks for this x
Thanks Jane and Catherine for posting on this topic – I’ll definitely be sharing to spread the word. I’m a member of a beach cleaning group called Widemouth Task Force which just the other day posted a link to a piece on CNN on a related story regarding the use of micro plastics in exfoliating soaps: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/07/health/microplastics-soap-unilever/index.html?fb_action_ids=10200402272128845&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582
The amount of plastic and other non-biodegradable debris found along our coastline never ceases to shock me. There’s not many amongst us that don’t love a bit of glitter but this knowledge certainly takes the sparkle off things…..
Thank you so much for this post, really, thank you. I have mentioned the environmental risks of glitter and plastic bead exfoliates and people look at me like I’m nuts. Really, it’s nuts that companies keep using plastics in this way that harms the planet further. I guess it’s equally nuts of consumers to keep their fingers in their ears and pretend that our beauty habits have no impact on the environment.
Very interesting post. I don’t use much glitter in life, but I am going to start looking out for polyethylene in the future.
I would think someone could come up with a biodegradable glitter. After all, cellophane is 100% biodegradable, and very similar in shine and texture. Great article!
I have to admit I’d not ever thought about this. Thank you both for taking time to research & provide this information to BBB readers. I will be checking ingredient lists moving forward. I am incredibly bummed that my favorite exfoliator (ExfoliKate) lists polyethylene as the 3rd ingredient.
I was on the beach and saw all this lovely sand, sparkly and pretty. Then I saw it was plastic beads. Thats in West Wales, this is awful.
Such an interesting post! I was directed here by another blog so I’m so pleased that they shared your link. To be honest I am not a huge fan of glitter in bath bombs and other bath products anyway as I find it really irritating when it sticks on my skin. I had never thought of the consequences of glitter products though and I do think more companies should be swapping to an alternative. Great post! xo
Brilliant article & something I’ve never even thought about before. So I decided to contact Mavala as I use their glitter polishes in my salon. They told me the glitter they use is PET, so recyclable but not biodegradable. It’s a start I suppose & at least they answered me. I pointed out that it would still get through the water filtration process probably. I really hope that companies will take issues like this on board. Yes we hear about cosmetics not being tested on animals and this is getting shouted about more & more which is fab. But as this article points out its the after that counts too.