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The hidden plastic in your daily routine

by Ingrid Hale
Microplastics could begetting into your daily routine without you knowing. Let’s see how we can be more aware in our choices.
Going into any beauty store or cosmetics isle in the grocer can bring on a sense of doubt for anyone. With promises to fix problems you didn’t even know you had, how on earth do you know what to buy?
Distracted by choices about which products to choose, consumers may not take time to consider the environmental impact of these products.Many people are not aware of just how much plastic is hidden in their beauty and personal care routine. Take a look at your bathroom. At first glance, depending on where you live and your purchasing habits, you may notice the plastic used to package your shampoo, make-up, shower gel, and almost every personal care product you own. At second glance, you may start to pay attention to the everyday plastic products that you have always used without consideration of their plastic footprint—your toothbrush, your razor, your disposable face wipes and your cotton buds. Perhaps when you look even closer, you will notice that the tiny spheres in your face scrub are made of plastic, and your favourite eyeshadow also has plastic glitter in it. Scary right?

“But not all plastic is visible to the naked eye. Whilst microplastics are any piece of plastic under 5 mm in size, microbeads are a type of microplastic smaller than 1 mm. Even smaller than that are nanoplastics, which are so small that they can pass through human skin.” – Cleanseas 

The Bad News

Microplastics are intentionally added to all kinds of products and not limited to exfoliants. Plastic helps many products to function better in many ways, including: skin conditioning, exfoliants, abrasives, glitter, tooth polishing, viscosity regulators to make the products flow, emulsifiers, film formers, opacifying agents, liquid absorbents binders, bulking agents, and more. So it’s not just your exfoliating face wash that needs a double look. Other products include deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lipstick, hair dye, shaving cream, sunscreen, insect repellent, anti-wrinkle cream, moisturizers, hair spray, facial masks, baby care products, eye shadow, mascara and more. In some cases, these products are made of more than 90% plastic.

Microplastics in personal care products can go effortlessly down the drain as you wash. Because they are so small, wastewater filtration cannot treat them, and they can easily enter rivers and seas.


“Since microplastics are not biodegradable, when in the sea they attract waterborne toxins and bacteria that stick to their shiny surface and look similar to food items. They can then be eaten by fish, amphibians, insects, larvae and marine animals. Plastics can block digestive tracts, or enter the food chain where they may eventually end up on our dinner plates.” – Cleanseas 

The health impact of microplastics on humans is not fully known and more research is needed to understand their effect on our bodies.

The UN Environment Programme’s Heidi Savelli-Soderberg says, “The presence of plastic litter and microplastics in the marine environment is a rapidly increasing serious issue of global concern,” she adds, “We need an urgent global response, by all stakeholders including consumers, to discharges of litter and microplastics into the oceans, taking into account a product life-cycle approach.”

The good news

You, as the consumer, don’t need to contribute to the mass of microplastics entering the ocean through personal care products. By giving your bathroom a plastic-free makeover you can prevent more microplastics from heading into the seas. To find out if your product contains microplastics, you can scan it using the “Beat the Microbead” app, or look for the following commonly used plastic ingredients on the label: polyethylene (PE), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), nylon, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP). For a full list of plastic ingredients, go to

Sustainable, ocean-friendly alternatives are available in many of the stores you already shop in, and by demanding plastic-free products and materials, the industry will have to respond. Switch to plastic-free packaging where possible, pledge to stop using products that contain hidden plastics, and demand change from the beauty brands that use them excessively.

Once you’ve got your new favourite brands and products it will be as if nothing even changed. So why stop there, next step is to tackle each room in the house.

Ditch Plastic in The New Decade. 

Where to shop and what to Buy:

To help you get started these are a few of our favourite local (South African) and international brands and stores that stock plastic free products for your beauty needs.

  1. Lush Cosmetics (International + Local)
  2. Nude Foods (Cape Town)
  3. Wellness Warehouse (Local)
  4. The Refillery (Johannesburg)
  5. Credo Beauty (Online Store)
  6. Faithful to Nature (Local online Store)
  7. Buck Naked Soaps (USA + online)
  8. Package Free (USA Online Store)
  9. Keeping it Natural (Available on Etsy)
  10. The Body Shop – Microplastic free (International + Local)

The United Nations Environment Programme launched the Clean Seas Campaign in 2017 with the goal of galvanizing a global movement to Beat Plastic Pollution. Since then, 60 countries have pledged to do their part to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastics. Click here to learn more about the campaign and how you can help (, consider joining the global partnership on marine litter and follow our social media campaign @UNEP on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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