Rubbing plastic on your skin? Say no

Rubbing plastic on your skin? Say no

Microbeads are plastic particles commonly found in personal care products sold in India. Many countries have banned these but India still adopts a soft approach

did you know? A large percentage of skincare products sold in the country contain microbeads and microplastics.

As Bengaluru struggles with deficient rainfall in the face of another scorching summer, more and more people are waking up to the need to conserve the water bodies in the city. Visibly threatened by industrial effluents, dumping of garbage and encroachments, these precious patches of water are also tortured by our skincare regimes.

Confused? Our face washes, body washes, shampoos and toothpaste contain microbeads — small plastic particles which range in size from 1 millimeter to 1 micrometer. They typically look like colourful particles and are a cause of concern and topic of discussion globally.

Why should this concern us?

Dr Rashmi Ravindra, consultant Dermatologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, points out that a single wash may contain anything from 4,000-80,000 of these beads, depending on the proportion of personal care product used. They pass through the sink, reach the gutter, escape the filtration system at sewage treatment plants because of their small size and reaches the water bodies, where, because of their non-biodegradable nature, they stay for decades.

What happens after that?

Since these are plastic, they attract other pollutants like pesticides, mineral oil, toxic chemicals and so on while floating in the water. The small particles look like food to aquatic animals and organisms, who ingest these and bring them to the food chain. When you eat those fish, you consume the millions of plastic matter they contain inside them.

What is the effect on humans? 

Dr Rashmi notes these are mostly used in skincare products. “They act as exfoliating agents because of their abrasive properties. They can be used to remove dead cells either from the skin or the scalp, while in toothpaste, they might help to remove stain and plaque from the tooth.”

“A single tube of face wash can contain upto 3 lakh microbeads. Long term ingestion will lead to many diseases and health issues,” she says.

Dr Sudheendra Udbalker, consultant, dermatology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, says that anything which abrades the skin can cause dryness. “Usage over a long time can cause skin irritations and make it prone to allergies, especially for people who have sensitive skin.”

He goes on to mention that certain studies found these beads getting stuck in open pores on people’s skins or getting into someone’s eyes. “It doesn’t lead to a lasting problem but you certainly wouldn’t want a purple bead sticking on to your cheek,” he says. 

No clarity on which products use these

Dr Sudheendra says that there are no guidelines and no specifications on which products in India use these, leading to consumers being left in the dark. “I personally tell my patients to look out for words like polyethylene, polymethyl in their products and avoid these,” he adds.

A ban is the only way out, feel experts

Countries such as USA, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand have already banned the use of rinse-off microbeads in cosmetics such as exfoliating scrubs, soaps, shampoos, etc. In 2017, the Bureau of Indian Standards did a study and classified microbead products as ‘not fit for use. However, the ban will come into effect only in 2020.

Study finds microbeads in many products

A Delhi-based NGO, Toxics Link, tested cosmetic and skincare products for the presence of microbeads and microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic). They found that several personal care products available across the country contained these. 

Results showed that 50 per cent of the face wash products and 67 per cent of the facial scrubs contained microplastics. As many as 28 per cent of all the tested products contained these harmful plastic particles. Also, as many as 31 per cent of total products tested had microparticles other than microplastics.

Watch out for...

Words like polyethylene (PE), polyethylene terephth­alate, polyprop­ylene, polyamide, polyesters, polystyrene and polyvinyl chloride, polymethyl methacrylate and so on.

Natural alternatives

Scrubbing your skin once in a while is important to clear the dead cells. Opt for natural exfoliators like whole oats, jojoba beads, salt, ground coffee, sugar, turmeric and so on. Ways to use these are easily available on the internet.