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Plastics: ‘the hidden beauty ingredient’

Nine in 10 products from major cosmetics brands contain microplastics
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A lady comparing two bottles of shampoo in a supermarket

Almost nine in 10 products from major cosmetics brands contain microplastics, according to a new report.
The report, Plastic – The Hidden Beauty Ingredient, from environmental campaigners Plastic Soup Foundation, found 87% of products from the 10 best-selling cosmetics brands contained plastic.

It reflects an article published in My Green Pod Magazine (Feb 2019) that describes the use of synthetic polymers as a common ‘microplastics dodge’ in the cosmetics industry.

You can find out more about how it’s happening here.

Understanding synthetic polymers

The first of its kind, the study looked at over 7,000 products from household names including L’Oréal Paris, Garnier, Nivea, Gillette, Oral-B and Head & Shoulders.  
As a result of the findings, campaigners and scientists are now calling for all synthetic polymers to be examined for their potential harm before they are allowed in products on the European market.  
They warned not enough is known about the biodegradability and toxicity of synthetic polymers for both the environment and people to allow them unregulated access.

‘No one should underestimate our exposure to microplastics. If you carefully read the labels, polyethylene, nylon, polypropylene and many other pollutants come in very high percentages in cosmetics.    
‘The effects of microplastic pollution are very serious, and we share the preoccupation that without containing this phenomenon the effects would harm the planet and its inhabitants.’

Group of the Greens/European Alliance

Microplastics legislation

Every minute it is estimated over seven kilos of microplastics deriving from personal care products will end up in the environment across Europe.   
Unveiling the research as the EU prepares to introduce new restrictions on the addition of microplastics  to products such as cosmetics, detergents and pesticides, Plastic Soup Foundation warned the legislation might not go far enough. 

‘We want to encourage the European Commission and the EU member states to take the opportunity of the upcoming EU legislation to put an end to all deliberately added microplastics in cosmetics once and for all.’

Plastic Soup Foundation campaigner for Beat the Microbead

The legislation is expected to be debated in June with a view to it being adopted by the end of 2022. However, it might be based on the European Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) definition of microplastics, which excludes the majority of synthetic polymers. 
If this is the case, the legislation would apply to less than 4% of the microplastics used in cosmetics, they said. 
ECHA’s definition will see plastic particles smaller than 0.1 micrometre excluded from the law, as well as omitting all water-soluble, semi-solid, liquid and ‘biodegradable’ polymers.

‘The current proposed definition by ECHA will only tackle a fraction of the problem as long as it does not cover all types of microplastics.   
‘Far too little is known about these synthetic polymers  to allow them unregulated access to people living across Europe. What we do know is that these products, used day-in day-out, contain plastic.  
‘We are seeing a wealth of emerging evidence that plastic poses a risk to not just the environment, but human health also. The EU must urgently re-think how it defines microplastics, and make sure its legislation is as robust as possible to protect both people and the planet.’

Plastic Soup Foundation founder

Brands that use microplastics

With industry showing a lack of transparency on microplastic use in their products, Plastic Soup Foundation collected data on personal care products using its Beat the Microbead app. 
Used by people worldwide, consumers simply scan a product using the app to see if it contains microplastics. The data from the product is then collected by the app and placed in a database ready to be assessed. 
The study focused on 10 brands: L’Oréal Paris; Elvive; Garnier; Nivea; Gillette; Oral-B; Head & Shoulders; Dove; Rexona and Axe, from Europe’s four largest cosmetics manufacturers: L’Oreal; Beiersdorf; Procter & Gamble and Unilever.  
Of the 10 brands investigated, 7,704 different products formed the report’s database, with only 13% being found to be free of microplastics.

Exposure to plastic

While the brands and manufacturers have outlined their intention to combat plastic pollution, there is little action to tackle microplastics, which could be disastrous for the environment, Plastic Soup Foundation said.  
Meanwhile, scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the consequences of human exposure to plastic.   
Last month scientists from the VU University Amsterdam and the VUmc revealed research which found the presence of synthetic polymers in human blood for the first time in almost 80% of test subjects.  
With little known about their potential risk and toxicity, campaigners said they must be kept off the market until clear data is available.

‘All alarm bells are ringing for me, knowing that the use of microplastics has increased so much without proper research or legislation. Microplastics are really used in everything, without us knowing exactly what the consequences are for human health and the environment. This is precisely why restraint is all the more necessary.  
‘We cannot let the business models of cosmetics brands prevail over damage to people and the planet. Moreover, it is the citizens who subsequently pay for the damage caused, not the brands that should be using alternatives to these microplastics. 
‘I am pleased that we in Europe are making policies to limit the use of microplastics and to ensure that less plastic ends up in nature. Finally, I plead for a broader definition of microplastics in Europe in order to prevent further damage.’

Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats

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