This State Wants to Ban Your Face Wash to Save the Environment

Here's why you should be careful the next time you lather, rinse, repeat.

(Photo: Monica Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Feb 12, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Sarah Parvini is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles.

Sure, washing your face seems harmless enough, but a common ingredient in many popular cleansers is doing serious damage to the planet.

Plastic microbeads—used in face wash, soap, and toothpaste—make their way down our drains, through our wastewater treatment plants, and into our ecosystem. Trying to get in front of the threat, New York has introduced legislation to become the first state to ban products containing the little orbs.

A state bill introduced Tuesday would prohibit the production and sale of products with beads smaller than five millimeters in diameter, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. The ban would go into effect one year after being signed into law.

Because the balls aren't biodegradable, they threaten fish, wildlife, and public health. Millions of beads float in New York's Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean, where they soak up chemicals in the water. Scientists fear that because fish and other marine life eat the toxic particles, the pollutants will make their way up the food chain and back to humans.

A 2012 study by the Convention on Biological Diversity found that more than 660 species were harmed by marine garbage. About 11 percent of those cases were directly related to microplastics—one fish alone had eaten 83 fragments.

"Many waterbirds mistake plastics for food—or are susceptible to bio-accumulation of plastic in the fish they eat—with detrimental effect, including decreased food absorption and starvation," said Erin Crotty, vice president of the National Audubon Society.

Scientists recently began studying water in the Los Angeles River and found evidence of microbead pollution there as well, the Los Angeles Times reports.

But researchers have yet to figure out a way to catch the beads in sewage systems or safely fish them out of our water. The balls are so tiny that they slip through the treatment plants designed to filter larger materials.

The cosmetic industry started moving away from microbeads in 2012, when Unilever (manufacturer of Dove, Ponds, and Caress) agreed to phase them out by 2015. Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson have also announced they will stop using the beads.

Still need an exfoliation fix?

Look for products containing eco-friendly alternatives, such as apricot seeds or walnut shells.