According to a new study to be published in 'Marine Pollution Bulletin,' washing with exfoliating face and body scrubs that use micro-sized plastic beads may be leaving the Great Lakes covered in pollution. The study, first discussed in the June 2013 issue of 'Scientific American,' has found that plastic micro beads used as abrasives in these skin cleansing products are too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants and have been building up in the Great Lakes; Lake Erie to be specific.
It may sound like a small problem, quite literally, but it's actually one that's quite expansive. Birds and fish have been mistaking the small artificial granules for food. The accumulation of this hazardous plastic in their systems has been linked to DNA damage, which as these animals work their way up the food chain toward us, become riddled with possible sources for human cancer, cardiac problems, and endocrine disruption. Basically, the beads in your face wash get eaten, absorbed into the genes of wildlife that we use in our food supply, and then are consumed by you.
There is good news. Thanks to efforts of the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing plastic pollution in partnership with Plastic Soup Foundation and Plastic Free Seas, major cosmetic companies like the Body Shop and L'Oreal have already stopped using the beads. Johnson & Johnson and Unilever have both promised to discontinue using plastic by 2015. Some of your local drug store brands like Burt's Bees and St. Ives didn't need convincing – they'd already been using alternative abrasives in their exfoliating washes.
And this is a case where the alternative is actually better for your skin and more tailored to your needs. Especially for men. Women are actually more in need of heavy duty exfoliating abrasives since they're slathering on all sorts of makeup and powders every day. Guys typically need something on the more gentle side to take care of everyday pollutants. Bamboo, rice granules, and walnut shells are the eco-friendly ingredients you should be looking for.
Our suggestions? Get Raw Skin Grit uses walnut shells and jojoba beads [$19.95 for 6.5 oz]. Urth Scrub [$38 for 4 oz] employs rice and wheat germ. Organic Male Citrus Bamboo Resurfacing Scrub uses bamboo [$40 for 3.38 oz].
For guys who have reason to go a little more tough, try Triumph & Disaster Rock & Roll Suicide Scrub, which uses slightly more abrasive volcanic ash [$39 for 3.38 oz].
Not using an exfoliant would be good for the earth, too, and you may be wondering why you should use a wash that contains chunky particles at all. The reason's simple. Your regular face wash does a good job at cleaning daily, but some grime still gets missed, builds up, and needs something stronger every so often (similar to the way you need to clean your kitchen and oven a little more deeply every so often). Use scrubs like these once or twice a week, ideally before a shave to remove dead skin and uncover any ingrown hairs, making not only for a fully clean face and fresh complexion, but also a much smoother shave.