US bans use of microbeads in beauty products

President Barack Obama has signed into US law the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, prohibiting the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.

The act, which amends section 301 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, will phase out the manufacture of these products by July 1, 2017, with sales stopped by July 1, 2018.

Plastic microbeads are solid plastic particles, less than five millimetres in size, found in many health and beauty products including soap and body scrubs and are designed to remove dry cells from the surface of the skin.

However, the use of microbeads has been a contentious issue due to the environmental dangers they pose. One of the main concerns is that fish often end up consuming the beads once they wash back up in the sea after going down plugholes, and this results in toxins further up the food chain.

“The US has acted, and the UK should be acting right now. The evidence is clear and unequivocal: microbeads in cosmetics products are ending up in our waters, in our sealife and in our own bodies, with pesticides and other chemicals attached,” Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, told The Independent.

The Netherlands was the first to announce a nationwide ban (by 2016) and last year the standardisation body for beauty and spa therapy, CIDESCO, asked its global beauty members to replace the skincare products they use that contain plastic microbeads.

Some cosmetic companies worldwide, including Pai, Lush Cosmetics and Rituals, have already made pledges never to use microbeads in formulations.