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Microplastics in cosmetics

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Microplastics in cosmetics

Microplastics in cosmetics is a topic that has recently been drawing our attention from numerous cover pages, so we decided to present this issue to you in a more detailed article. So, what is it all about and is there a natural alternative? Can an individual make a difference with the right choice?

Environmental issues

Waste is found in all the world’s seas and oceans, even in remote areas – far from human activity. Continuous growth in the amount of waste that is discharged into the sea and the very slow decomposition of most waste causes the accumulation of waste at sea level, sea bottom and in coastal areas. Up to 80% of the waste in our oceans is plastic (2). Discarded bottles and plastic bags are a visible sign of the problem of coastal and oceanic areas where waste is collected. It is easy to imagine that by removing visible plastic we would prevent the irreversible consequences that are threatening us. The story of plastic is certainly not as straightforward, however.

Marine waste is a major global environmental problem. In its environmental campaign, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. We do not know exactly the total amount of microplastics currently found in the sea. Scientific studies indicate that up to 4.1% of European sea pollution with microplastics can be attributed to cosmetic sources. The United Nations has launched an initiative to eliminate the major sources of marine waste by 2022, which largely include microplastics in cosmetics and the “wasteful use of single-use plastics”. The organization has forced companies, especially major global players, to voluntarily remove microplastics from their products.

Microplastics as a term

In order to effectively discuss how to treat cosmetic products as a possible source of microplastics, it is important to define what can be considered as “microplastics”. The components we define as microplastics are:
solid materials
particles smaller than 5 mm
water-insoluble particles
non-degradable particles
plastic particles

Microplastics in the cosmetic industry

The value of the global cosmetics industry was $ 433 billion in 2012 (Euromonitor International 2012) and is still on the rise. Microplastics appeared in cosmetics 50 years ago. Plastic particles are used in cosmetics in various products such as: deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, scrub, lipstick, hair color, shaving cream, sunscreen, insect repellent, anti-wrinkle cream, face mask, baby care products, eye shadow, glitter, mascara, etc. For example, a regular body scrub contains about as much microplastics as the plastic packaging in which it is packaged. If only 5% of toothpaste ingredients were plastic particles, Europeans would spit out about 74,000 kg of plastic particles into their sinks every day. Such particles cannot be collected for recycling and are not stopped by sewage treatment plants, so they end up in our oceans.

Potential adverse effects of plastics on human and animal health

We use microplastics to a great extent through the food chain – we drink, eat, and apply microplastics to our skin. Tiny plastic particles can pass through the human digestive tract to the lymphatic and circulatory (cardiovascular) systems and the placenta. In the past, the cosmetic industry has often faced controversial ingredients in products that have led to serious health problems. Hazardous components of this type are dangerous solvents, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and other toxic substances (2).

Microplastics also have a terrible impact on animals. A study by Imperial College in London showed that as many as 80% of seabird species ingest microplastics and carry it in their stomachs, which on average take up 10% of their weight.

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natalija.petkovsek@nelipot.si

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