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Save Your Skin, Save Our Oceans

January 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Skincare

Ever notice how great your face feels after you exfoliate with a facial scrub?

It feels soft and refreshed, right?

Exfoliating not only removes the tired, dead cells on your skin’s surface, it also speeds up the skin renewal process, allowing new healthy cells to take their place.

That’s a good thing…

What isn’t good is what’s sloughing away those dead skin cells.

I’m talking about microbeads.

Microbeads are the gritty specks added to face and body scrubs, shower gels, toothpaste and other products. They are part of hundreds if not thousands of exfoliants on the market. These little plastic beads make you think the product has real scrubbing power. But you might be surprised at what microbeads are really doing to you and to the whole world.

You see, when you rinse microbeads off your face and body, they flow into your local sewer system. But they are too small to get filtered out of the water supply. The largest microbeads are only about the size of a pinhead. The smallest ones are not even visible to the naked eye.

By escaping filters, microbeads continue pouring into rivers, lakes and oceans. They build up there. It’s been estimated that one shower could result in 100,000 of these plastic particles going into the ocean.

The problem is these microbeads are mainly made of polyethylene, but can also be made of nylon and other artificial substances. Their small size means fish and other marine life can ingest them and the chemicals they carry. They can harm the fish.

But that’s just the start.

By entering fish, they enter our food supply.1

In a recent study, 25% of the fish sampled in markets in California had plastics in their guts.2But it doesn’t stop with seafood. These plastics have also been found in drinking water, beer, honey, sugar and table salt.3

Dentists are finding microbeads from toothpaste stuck between the teeth and gums of their patients. The beads trap harmful bacteria. That can lead to gingivitis and other gum infections.

Scientists have also found that these little plastic particles pick up pollution, bacteria, chemicals and heavy metals. Then they leach these toxins into the air, soil and water. Studies show these beads can cause lung and gut injury in people. The tiniest particles can cross cell membranes, the blood brain barrier, and a mother’s placenta. They can cause oxidative stress, cell damage and inflammation.4

And we already know that some of the chemicals in these plastics — like bisphenol A and phthalates — disrupt hormones and have led to an estrogen overload in both men and women.

How can you tell if your beauty products contain microbeads?

Beat The Microbead ( publishes a list of products that use microbeads. Click here to see the list. You’ll see products from Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clinique, Olay and other big companies.

But be careful…

The list is not comprehensive, so you still have to check the ingredient list of your personal care products. Avoid anything with these tell-tale plastic ingredients:

  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Polyethylene terephthalate
  • Nylon
  • Polylactic acid
  • Polymethyl methacrylate

In 2015, the U.S. passed a law banning the manufacturing of microbeads. But it won’t be fully effective until July of 2017. And there will still be loopholes for things like sunscreen.

Look for products with natural exfoliants like sea salt, sand, pumice, sugar or walnut husks.

I don’t use microbeads in any of my skin care products. In fact, my facial scrub uses beads made from natural oil from the jojoba plant (Simmondsia Chinensis). The oil is pressed from jojoba seeds and made into a solid wax. The wax is then formed into round beads.

Jojoba beads are smooth and gentle. They won’t cause tears in the skin the way harsh plastics can.

And they are biodegradable so they won’t accumulate in fish or the oceans.

To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. L.S. Fendall, M.A. Sewell, “Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers.” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 58 (8) (2009), pp. 1225-1228.
2. Rochman, C.M., Tahir, A., Williams, S.L., et al. (2015). “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.” Scientific Reports, 2015: 5, 14340.
3. United Nations Environmental Programme, Frontiers 2016 Report, Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern.
4. A. Dick Vethaak and Heather A. Leslie, “Plastic Debris Is a Human Health Issue.” Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016, 50, 6825?6826.

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Al Sears, M.D., is a practicing physician with extensive experience in the fields of complementary and natural healthcare. The recommendation and materials on this site represent his opinion based on his years of practicing medicine. Any recommendations are not intended to replace the advice of your physician. You are encouraged to seek advice from a competent medical professional regarding the applicability of any recommendations with regard to your symptoms or condition. It is important that you do not reduce, change or discontinue any medication or treatment without consulting your physician first.

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