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This article is about plastic microspheres commonly used in cosmetics. For microbeads of varying composition that are used in research, see Microbeads (research). For other uses, see Microsphere (disambiguation).

Microbeads are polyethylene microspheres that are widely used in cosmetics as exfoliating agents and personal care products such as toothpaste, as well as biomedical and health science research, microscopy techniques, fluid visualization and fluid flow analysis, and process troubleshooting.[1] They are commercially available in particle sizes from 10 µm to 1000 µm (1mm). Low melting temperature and fast phase transitions make this material especially suitable for creating porous structures in ceramics and other materials. Because they pass sewage treatment without being filtered, they have resulted in plastic particle water pollution.


Fluorescent polyethylene microspheres are commonly used to run blind tests on laboratory and industrial processes, in order to develop proper methods and minimize cross-contamination of equipment and materials. Microspheres that appear to be invisible in the daylight can be illuminated to display a bright fluorescent response under UV light.

Colored polyethylene microspheres are used for fluid flow visualization to enable observation and characterization of flow of particles in a device. Colored microspheres can also be used as visible markers in microscopy and biotechnology.Sphericity and particle size uniformity create a ball-bearing effect in creams and lotions, resulting in a silky texture and spreadability. Exceptional smoothness and roundness also provides lubrication during application. Colors add visual appeal to cosmetic products.[2]

Black polyethylene microspheres can have magnetic or conductive functionality, and have uses in electronic devices, EMI shielding and microscopy techniques.

Environmental effects[edit]

Microbeads from exfoliating personal care products and toothpastes are washed down the drain after use, pass unfiltered through the sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and canals, resulting in plastic particle water pollution.[3] Plastic microbeads have been found to pollute the Great Lakes which has become a substantial environmental concern. Research found high concentrations of plastics in U.S. lakes, particularly Lake Erie. Microbeads accounted for 90 percent of these plastics.[4]

Banning production and sale[edit]


Illinois became the first U.S. state to enact legislation banning the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads; the two-part ban goes into effect in 2018 and 2019.[5] In October 2014, the New Jersey Senate passed a similar ban[6] and Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie signed it in March 2015.[7] The New York State Assembly voted in May 2014 to ban microbeads, and additional legislation was under consideration in Ohio. The Personal Care Products Council, a trade group for the cosmetic industry, came out in support of the Illinois bil.[8] Major beauty companies such as The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, and Procter & Gamble have pledged to phase out plastic microbeads from their products. In August 2014, a bill that would have banned use of microbeads in California failed to pass the Senate.[9] Since the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 H.R. 4895 which would ban sale and distribution of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads, died in Congress, Representative Frank Pallone re-introduced The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (H.R. 1321) on March 4, 2015. It has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.[10]

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is the first country to announce its intent to be virtually free of microbeads in cosmetics by the end of 2016.[11] State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment Mansveld has said she is pleased with the progress made by the members of the Nederlandse Cosmetica Vereniging (NCV), the Dutch trade organisation for producers and importers of cosmetics.[12] All members have ceased using microbeads or are working towards removing microbeads from their product. By 2017 80% of them should have completed the transition to a microbead-free product line. [according to whom?] Among the NCV's members are large multinationals such as Unilever, L'Oréal, Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel, and Johnson & Johnson.[citation needed]

In 2012, the North Sea Foundation and the Plastic Soup Foundation launched an app that allows Dutch consumers to check whether personal care products contain microbeads.[13] In the summer of 2013, the United Nations Environment Programme and UK based NGO Fauna and Flora International joined the partnership to further develop the App for international audiences. The App has enjoyed great success, convincing a number of large multinationals to stop using microbeads.,[14] which is available in seven languages.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paint and Coatings Industry Magazine, January 1st, 2010 : Opaque Polyethylene Microspheres for the coatings applications
  2. ^ Cosmetics and Toiletries.com, April 2010 Issue: Solid Polyethylene Microspheres for effects in color cosmetics
  3. ^ Fendall, L.S.; Sewell, M.A. (2009). "Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: microplastics in facial cleansers". Marine Pollution Bulletin 58 (8): 1225–1228. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2009.04.025. 
  4. ^ Eriksen, Marcus; Mason, Sherri; Wilson, Stiv; Box, Carolyn; Zellers, Ann; Edwards, William; Farley, Hannah; Amato, Stephen (2013). "Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes". Marine Pollution Bulletin 77 (1-2): 177–182. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.10.007. 
  5. ^ "Governor Quinn Signs Bill to Ban Microbeads, Protect Illinois Waterways". Illinois Government News Network. June 8, 2014. 
  6. ^ Johnson, Brent. NJ Advance media for NJ.com http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/10/bill_to_ban_microbeads_in_nj_heads_to_christies_desk.html. Retrieved 24 October 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Sergio Bichao, (March 23, 2015). "Products with microbeads will disappear from N.J. stores thanks to new ban". Mycentarlnewjersey.com (Gannett). Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Johnson, Jim. "Momentum building for plastic microbead bans," Plastics News, May 9, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2014.
  9. ^ Pitman, Simon. "California bill to ban microbeads fails". Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  10. ^ "H.R. 4895 (113th): Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014". GovTrack. Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  11. ^ "Beat the Microbead: Nederland spreekt zich uit". Plastic Soup Foundation. October 29, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Appreciatie RIVM rapport en stand van zaken microplastics en geneesmiddelen". Rijksoverheid. October 28, 2014. 
  13. ^ "In short - Beat the Microbead". Beat the Microbead. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Results - Beat the Microbead". Beat the Microbead. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 

External links[edit]