||It has been suggested that this article be merged with Microparticles and Polyethylene microspheres. (Discuss) Proposed since May 2014.|
Microbeads are polyethylene microspheres that are widely used in cosmetics, skin care and personal care industries, as well as biomedical and health science research, microscopy techniques, fluid visualization and fluid flow analysis, and process troubleshooting. They are commercially available in particle sizes from 10 um to 1000 um (1mm). Low melting temperature and fast phase transitions make this material especially suitable for creating porous structures in ceramics and other materials.
In the cosmetics industry they are usually used as exfoliating agents. 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. Microspheres in different colors add visual appeal to cosmetic products. Plastic particle water pollution by microplastics including plastic microbeads has become a substantial environmental concern.
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.
Black polyethylene microspheres can have magnetic or conductive functionality, and have uses in electronic devices, EMI shielding and microscopy techniques.
Plastic microbeads found in exfoliating personal care products are polluting United States Great Lakes. Recent research published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, a peer-reviewed journal, found high concentrations of plastics in U.S. lakes, particularly Lake Erie. Microbeads accounted for 90 percent of these plastics.  Microbeads are designed to be small enough to wash down the drain, but they are not caught by sewage treatment, instead flowing into waterways.
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. The New York State Assembly voted in May 2014 to ban microbeads, and additional legislation was under consideration in Ohio and California. The Personal Care Products Council, a trade group for the cosmetic industry, has come out in support of the Illinois bill, which prohibits the sale of personal care products with microbeads by 2019. 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.
- Paint and Coatings Industry Magazine, January 1st, 2010 : Opaque Polyethylene Microspheres for the coatings applications
- Cosmetics and Toiletries, April 2010 Issue: Solid Polyethylene Microspheres for effects in color cosmetics
- 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.
- "Governor Quinn Signs Bill to Ban Microbeads, Protect Illinois Waterways". Illinois Government News Network. June 8, 2014.
- Johnson, Jim. "Momentum building for plastic microbead bans," Plastics News, May 9, 2014. Accessed May 22, 2014.