Opinion: Exfoliating face wash damages Great Lakes

Opinion: Exfoliating face wash damages Great Lakes

Unless you are currently rebelling against hygiene standards, my guess is that you wash your face at least once a day. In doing so, you may be unintentionally harming the Great Lakes.

Studies have found the exfoliating face wash many of us use everyday contains plastic microbeads which are too small to be filtered out by our water treatment systems. These microbeads are damaging the Great Lakes and other bodies of water throughout the world.

It is time to take action in order to eliminate these microbeads from our cosmetics.

Microbeads are small pieces of polyethylene (a type of plastic). Most microbeads fall under the category of facial cleansers, but the beads can also be found in soaps, sunscreens and even toothpaste. According to Susan Freinkel, author of the book “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story,” American consumers like them enough to buy cosmetics containing more than 573,000 pounds of them each year.

Microbeads are actually designed to go down our drains and through our pipes. Sherri Mason, an environmental chemist at the State University of New York at Fredonia, said that her team of researchers found about 43,000 Microbead particles per square kilometer throughout the Great Lakes.

The problem is that microbeads absorb and concentrate persistent organic pollutants that can potentially accumulate in the fatty tissues of anything that eats them. If fish eat the plastic and we eat the fish, we could be absorbing chemicals into our bodies. Consider this point my shameless plug for vegetarianism.

Microbeads also look like fish eggs and are easily ingested by fish and other aquatic species. A study out of England found 36.5 percent of fish in the English Channel have plastic within their gastrointestinal tracts. Another study headed by MA Browne found plastics remained inside mussels for 48 days after ingestion. If any of you were as moved to tears by the movie “Happy Feet” and the plastic rings around penguin’s necks as I was, these facts should be enough to persuade you to change your habits.

Legislatures, companies and individuals need to take steps to eliminate microbeads from the products we use every day. This summer, Illinois became the first state to ban the sale of products containing microbeads. The ban assures that products containing microbeads will be taken off shelves by 2019. We need to call on other states to do the same.

Some cosmetic companies are also committing to phasing out microbeads. According to a posting on their website, “L’Oréal is strongly committed to improve its environmental impact and has decided to no longer use microbeads of polyethylene in its scrubs by 2017.”

But this is not enough. As an individual, there are many different ways you can help correct this problem. You can use facewash without exfoliating beads or purchase face wash that has organic alternatives such as apricot pits, walnut shells or sugar. Better yet, you can make your own face wash at home using honey, sugar and other natural extracts.

Even though microbeads may be less visible than plastic bags, they are just as environmentally problematic. There is no reason why we should be polluting in this way. Make the decision today to protect our waterways and avoid cosmetics that contain polyethylene.