Beat the Microbead - Sailors for the Sea

Beat the Microbead

 March 10, 2017  | By: Oceana

Have you ever wondered what those tiny little beads are in your face wash, body soaps and toothpaste? They are likely tiny plastic particles called microbeads that are added to personal care products to help exfoliate your skin and clean your teeth. And microplastic ingredients aren’t just in your soaps, they can also be found in lipstick, eyeliner, deodorants and sunscreen.

microbeads, cosmetics, soaps

Are microbeads bad for the environment?

When you use products that contain plastic microbeads, they go down the drain. And because they’re too small to be filtered at wastewater treatment plants, these tiny plastics can end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. In fact, 8 trillion microbeads enter United States’ waterways every day.

Once in the water, micobeads can soak up toxic chemicals like a sponge. And the problem is these microbeads are the same size as fish eggs and look like food. If fish eat the microbeads, those chemicals can end up in the food web and onto our dinner plates.

plastic pollution, microplastic

How do I know if my product has microbeads?

First you can check the ingredient label. The most commonly used microbeads in cosmetics are: polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, polymethylmethacrylate and nylon.  However, there are more than 60 different microplastic ingredients currently used in cosmetics. So to ensure that your product doesn’t contain microplastic, go to to see if it’s on the list.

How do I properly dispose of my products that contain microbeads?

Currently the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) doesn’t have guidelines for disposal of products containing microbeads. There are two options. You can either send your product back to the manufacturer, telling them why you decided not to use their product or you can seal the lid and put the product into the trash. Both prevent the microbeads from ending up in the ocean.

Fun activity for kids:

If you have products that contain microbeads lying around, you can have your kids filter out the microbeads so they can see how tiny they really are. All you need is a soap with microbeads, a sealable jar, coffee filters, an open container, tape and warm water. First, squirt a small amount of microbead soap into a sealable jar and fill almost to the top with warm water. Have the kids shake the jar to loosen the beads from the gel. Tape a coffee filter to an open container and filter with soapy water mixture. Once all the water has drained, let the microbeads dry. Once dry, you can store the microbeads in a small container for the kids to show off.

microbeads, cosmetics, soaps

Check out our KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program for more fun activities about plastic pollution including Biomagnification Game and Plastic Beach.