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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 Microbead (research). For other uses, see Microsphere (disambiguation).

Microbeads are plastic 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 most frequently made of polyethylene but can be of other petrochemical plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene.[2][3]

In the United States, microbeads are defined as less than five millimeters in its largest dimension.[4] Microbeads are commercially available in particle sizes from 10 µm to 1000 µm (1 mm). Low melting temperature and fast phase transitions make this material especially suitable for creating porous structures in ceramics and other materials. Microbeads pose an environmental hazard when disposed of in waste water. Because they pass through sewage treatment plants without being filtered out, their disposal has resulted in plastic particle water pollution. Several jurisdictions have regulated the use of microbeads.


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.[citation needed]

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. Colors add visual appeal to cosmetic products.[5]

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

Environmental effects[edit]

Microbeads from exfoliating personal care products and toothpastes are washed down the drain, pass unfiltered through the sewage treatment plants and make their way into rivers and canals, resulting in plastic particle water pollution.[6] Plastic microbeads have been found to pollute the Great Lakes in high concentrations, particularly Lake Erie.

Banning production and sale in cosmetics[edit]

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.[7] 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 success, convincing a number of large multinationals to stop using microbeads,[8] and is available in seven languages. As momentum against microbeads in cosmetics has grown worldwide, companies such as Adidas,[9] The Body Shop, Johnson & Johnson,[10] L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have pledged to phase out plastic microbeads from their products.[citation needed]



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.[11] The Personal Care Products Council, a trade group for the cosmetics industry, came out in support of the Illinois bill.[12] Other states have followed.

All state bans except California[13] and New Jersey allow biodegradable microbeads. Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble opposed the California law.[14]

State/Territory Date Enacted Effective date Scope
California California October 8, 2015[14] January 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs) Does not allow biodegradable microbeads.[15][16]
Colorado Colorado March 26, 2015 Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs)[17] Allows biodegradable microbeads.
Connecticut Connecticut June 30, 2015 Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs)[18] Allows biodegradable microbeads.
Illinois Illinois 8 June 2014[19] Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs)[20] Allows biodegradable microbeads. Excludes prescription drugs.
Indiana Indiana April 15, 2015 Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs) Allows biodegradable microbeads.[21]
Maine Maine March 2015 Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs) Allows biodegradable microbeads.
Maryland Maryland May 12, 2015 Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs)[22] Allows biodegradable microbeads.
New Jersey New Jersey March 2015[23][24] Jan. 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs)[25] Does not allow biodegradable microbeads.
Wisconsin Wisconsin July 1, 2015[26] January 1, 2018 (manufacture of personal care products)-Jan. 1, 2020 (sale of over-the-counter drugs) Allows biodegradable microbeads. Excludes prescription drugs.

In 2014, legislation was voted on but failed to pass in New York.[10]


Erie County, New York has passed the first local ban in the state of New York. It bans the sale and distribution of all plastic microbeads (including biodegradable ones) including from personal care products.[27] Its prohibition on sales is stronger than any other law in the country.[28] It was enacted on Aug. 12, 2015[29] and should take effect into February, 2016. This appears to be the first ban to go into effect in the country. Four other NY counties have followed suit.[30]


At the Federal level, the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014 (H.R. 4895) which would ban sale and distribution of cosmetics containing plastic microbeads, died in Congress, and 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.[31]

The Netherlands[edit]

The Netherlands is the first country to announce its intent to be free of microbeads in cosmetics by the end of 2016.[32] 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.[33] 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paint and Coatings Industry Magazine, January 1st, 2010 : Opaque Polyethylene Microspheres for the coatings applications
  2. ^ "Microbeads". 5 Gyres. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "Microbeads – A Science Summary". Environment Canada. July 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  4. ^ Imam, Jareen (19 September 2015). "8 trillion microbeads pollute U.S. aquatic habitats daily". CNN. Retrieved 20 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Solid Polyethylene Microspheres for effects in color cosmetics Cosmetics and Toiletries.com, April 2010
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "In short - Beat the Microbead". Beat the Microbead. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Results - Beat the Microbead". Beat the Microbead. Retrieved November 25, 2014. 
  9. ^ Denninger, Jochen (November 17, 2015). "Microbeads-free shower gel keeps us AND the oceans clean". Adidas Group - Blog. 
  10. ^ a b Abrams, Rachel (May 22, 2015). "Fighting Pollution From Microbeads Used in Soaps and Creams". New York Times. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  11. ^ "Governor Quinn Signs Bill to Ban Microbeads, Protect Illinois Waterways". Illinois Government News Network. June 8, 2014. 
  12. ^ Johnson, Jim (May 9, 2014). "Momentum building for plastic microbead bans". Plastics News. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ a b Mason, Melanie (October 8, 2015). "Products with plastic microbeads to be banned under new California law". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Phil Willon California lawmakers approve ban on plastic microbeads LA Times, 8 September 2015
  16. ^ California Lawmakers Approve Ban On Plastic Microbeads In Cosmetics Lydia O'Connor, The Huffington Post,8 September 2015
  17. ^ "HOUSE BILL 15-1144" (PDF). State of Colorado. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  18. ^ "Bill No. 1502". State of Connecticut. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  19. ^ "Governor Quinn Signs Bill to Ban Microbeads, Protect Illinois Waterways". State of Illinois. June 8, 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  20. ^ "Microbead-free waters". Illinois General Assembly. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  21. ^ "HOUSE ENROLLED ACT No. 1185". State of Indiana. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  22. ^ "House Bill 216" (PDF). State of Maryland. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Johnson, Brent. "Bill to ban microbeads in N.J. heads to Christie's desk". NJ Advance media for NJ.com. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ "ASSEMBLY, No. 3083". State of New Jersey. 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  26. ^ O'Brien, Brendan (July 1, 2015). "Wisconsin Governor Walker signs bill banning microbeads". Reuters. Retrieved 8 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "Local Law #3, 2015" (PDF). Erie County. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  28. ^ Warner, Gene (11 August 2015). "Consumers, companies prepare for Erie County microbead ban". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  29. ^ "Law signed to ban microbeads in Erie County". WGRZ.com. August 12, 2015. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  30. ^ "Microbeads to no longer be sold in Albany Co.". News 10. November 9, 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  31. ^ "H.R. 4895 (113th): Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2014". GovTrack. Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  32. ^ "Beat the Microbead: Nederland spreekt zich uit". Plastic Soup Foundation. October 29, 2014. 
  33. ^ "Appreciatie RIVM rapport en stand van zaken microplastics en geneesmiddelen". Rijksoverheid. October 28, 2014. 

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