OK, we all know that plastic litter in our oceans is a huge problem, all the plastic packing that doesn't get recycled ends up in our oceans. However, the plastic problem in our oceans goes far beyond the packaging.
Did you know that some ingredients in personal care products as shampoo, shower gels, sunscreens, moisturisers, facial masks, anti-wrinkle creams, deodorants, lipsticks, shaving creams, insect repellents and many more, are exacerbating the problem? Since the 60’s, plastics have become a popular ingredient for PCCPs (Personal Care and Cosmetic Products), some of them containing up to 90% of plastic-based ingredients according to the Cosmetics Ingredient Review 2012.
Why are plastic-based ingredients used in PCCP?
Cosmetic and skincare manufacturing, whether organic/natural or traditional, requires ingredients that conduct certain functions within a product, such as viscosity regulators, emulsifiers, film formers, opacifying agents, liquid absorbents binders, bulking agents for an ‘optical blurring’ effect (e.g. of wrinkles), glitters, skin conditioning, exfoliants, abrasives and so on. However, there are 2 main differences between Synthetic polymers and organic/natural ingredients: cost and durability. Polymers are cheap as hell! And in the end, all big traditional brands care for, is making dinero. The second reason is that polymers last forever! Thus, products with such ingredients can stay on the shelves for longer, saving heaps on inventory issues. This lattes reason is also why they are so bad for our environment, especially the oceans.
How does this affect our water?
The plastic-based ingredients on our household products are washed or rinsed down the drain during or after use and cannot be collected for recycling (unlike the packaging), taking hundreds of years to decompose.
Most of the sewer and water filtration systems around the world are not capable of collecting the polymerous microparticles or microbeads, and end up in our rivers and oceans at an estimated rate of 8 Million tons per year. No wonder why now up to 80% of all marine debris are some sort of plastic.
It’s estimated that there are now 5.25 trillion macro and micro pieces of plastic in our ocean & 46,000 pieces in every square mile of ocean, weighing up to 269,000 tonnes.
Every day around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our oceans.
88% of the sea's surface is polluted by plastic waste.
1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals die from plastic pollution every year
Is this affecting our well-being?
Yes, indeed. The risk assessment of the plastic ingredients on human health trends to focus on the impact during use of the product. In other words, an ingredient can be classified as safe for dermal application even if it is implicated in tumour formation when implanted inside the body. (Cosmetic Ingredient Review 2012). Moreover, particles of those synthetic polymers can pass through human gastrointestinal tracts to lymph and circulatory systems, and through human placentas to unborn fetuses, absorbed in lungs when inhaled, causing a variety of biological responses from the immune system and negatively impacting the health of bodily cells (Kato et al. 2003; Hussain, Jaitley and Florence, 2001; Wick et al. 2010; Berntsen et al. 2010; Fröhlich et al. 2009).
Wait, it gets even better!
The microplastics have found their way to get back to us after we rinse them out, and that way is through our food. According to European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) research, not only all seafood and fish had hundreds of microbead particles but it has also been found in honey.
100% of baby sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs.
Plastic microbeads are estimated to be one million times more toxic than the seawater around them.
Products containing microbeads can release 100,000 tiny beads with just one squeeze.
Oxybenzone - the naughtiest of the naughtiest!
Does the name Oxybenzone sound familiar? If you have taken the time to read the product’s ingredients, especially sunscreens, you might have heard this name, but let's be real, we don't know what all those ingredients really are or what they do. Not at least till we figure out the nasty truth. Oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3, Milestab 9, Eusolex 4360 or Escalol 567 is a chemical widely used in sun blockers and other personal care products due to its high efficiency blocking or slowing the dangerous UV rays. Sadly, it does not stop there.
Known effects Oxybenzone on the ocean
This nasty has a long list of negative effects on our aquatic ecosystems. But let's focus on one of the most important aspects of the ecosystem, the Coral Reef. Researchers have found that this chemical not only kills corals, but also alters their DNA making them very difficult to reproduce and more susceptible to bleaching. No wonder why our Great barrier reef has lost half of its corals in the last 25 years. Studies found the highest concentrations of oxybenzone in the reefs that are more popular among tourists (obviously!). Hence, products with oxybenzone or similar ingredients in it have been banned in places like Hawaii, Palau and Aruba, but when it comes to Australia, home of the most wonderful coral reef in the world, it is still publicly allowed.
Known effects Oxybenzone on humans
This bad boy chemical may be causing a lot of trouble in the ocean, but let me tell you, it is not much better when it comes to humankind. Multiple studies have found Oxybenzone to cause skin allergies, irritate eyes but worse, it also acts as a hormone disruptor for us. Whether it enters our bodies through skin absorption or our dinner, it can affect the natural estrogen production in females and testosterone in males, which among other issues, can lead to thyroid problems and reproductive difficulties.
But that is not the end of the bad news
Recent investigations from the State University of New York and the National Institutes of Health has linked oxybenzone with the development of skin cancer, YES, you read right, skin cancer, the very illness it is supposed to protect us from!
What can we do?
Unless you have a degree in chemistry or a brilliant memory, you won’t be able to identify those plastic-based ingredients in the products you use every day. Fortunately, there’s a team that has done the work for us, allowing us to identify the products that contain synthetic polymers easily. “Beat the Microbead” is an app that recognizes from an ingredient list, more than 500 plastic-based ingredients.
Get the app here http://get.beatthemicrobead.org, and for your health and the environment, choose to use products that do not contain synthetic polymers. Remember, consumers have the ultimate power.