Our delicate faces encounter a lot throughout the day, whether it’s taking on makeup or facing the sun, dirt, pollution, or extreme temperatures. So at the end of the day, it’s not uncommon for us to reach for a facial cleanser that has some exfoliating power. However, have we ever stopped to think whether these tiny scrubbers are safe for our skin or the environment?

Woman Exfoliating Skin on Face

What to Look Out For

The ingredients you want to be aware of are microbeads, SLS, parabens, and fragrance. We’ve all probably bought a personal care product containing microbeads at some point, whether we knew it or not. Face washes, as well as body scrubs, toothpaste, and deodorant, utilize plastic microbeads as exfoliants.

Why are microbeads harmful?

As consumers, we typically use a product, let it run down the drain, and go about our merry way, thinking nothing of the consequences. Dr. Sherri Mason, an environmental chemist at the State University of NY who researches plastic pollution, estimates 11 billion microbeads enter aquatic habitats in the U.S. daily. Since the microbeads are less than 5 mm in size, they easily slip through wastewater treatment systems and make it into lakes and oceans. To make matters worse, they don’t biodegrade, so they stick around forever–that is, unless they are eaten.

Person scrubbing microbeads on hands

It is very likely that marine life would mistakenly ingest these microbeads since they look similar to fish eggs. The microbeads themselves aren’t toxic, but they can attract harmful pollutants (i.e. pesticides, motor oil, flame retardants) to adhere to their surface. The toxin-laden microbeads then make their way down the food chain, maybe even to our dinner plates in the form of sushi. Mmm…delicious.

Luckily, Congress passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which prohibits the manufacturing and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics (includes toothpaste) containing intentionally-added plastic microbeads. The deadline to stop manufacturing was July 1, 2017, but you may still see these products on shelves until July 2018. To avoid microbeads, look for polyethylene, polypropylene, polymethyl methacrylate, and polytetrafluoroethylene on ingredient labels.

Example showing polyethylene in ingredient list of microbeads product

The bill, signed by President Obama, represents a step in the right direction. However, a loophole exists. Companies can continue quietly using microbeads in detergents and leave-on cosmetics. Therefore, environmentalists are pushing for a more comprehensive ban and a right-to-know bill requiring companies to disclose their ingredients.

Are there natural, biodegradable alternatives to plastic microbeads?

Many companies make use of sand, salt, sugar, apricot shells, and ground nutshells to provide exfoliation and cleansing power in their products. Good for your skin and safe for the environment–win-win!

Best Facial Cleansers I Like

Barbary Activated Charcoal  Best Facial Cleanser

Barbary Activated Charcoal Facial Cleanser

Why I Like It: Barbary is a new brand I discovered that makes men’s grooming products. Their activated charcoal cleanser helps lift impurities from the skin and cleanses the pores, keeping acne at bay. Besides having a very sleek, simple design (which I love), the cleanser is gluten, paraben, and cruelty free. It makes a great gift for your man (and you can use it too when he’s not looking).


Acure Facial Scrub

Acure Facial Scrub

Why I Like It: Acure’s brightening and pore clarifying facial scrubs make use of clay to provide mild exfoliation, perfect for all skin types. The ingredients are 100% biodegradable and won’t clog pores.


Andalou Naturals Best Facial Cleanser

Andalou Naturals Cleanser

Why I Like It: Andalou Naturals carries a whole line of cleansers depending on your skin’s needs. They range from a kombucha cleansing gel for oily skin to an apricot probiotic cleansing milk for very dry skin.


Nourish Organic Moisturizing Face Cleanser

Nourish Organic Moisturizing Face Cleanser

Why I Like It: This product is truly 100% natural, USDA certified organic, vegan, and gluten free. The ingredients include aloe vera, cucumber, and watercress, which help to cleanse and hydrate skin. Neem leaf oil is also very beneficial for toning skin and improving acne. The cleanser is definitely more of a watery consistency, but still lathers quite well.

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