Exfoliating Scrubs: Rough On the Environment?

| 2/8/2010 9:50:35 AM

The harsh Kansas winters often leave my skin feeling deprived of moisture. Nothing seems to work better at sloughing away dry skin than exfoliating scrubs, but washing those skin-smoothing beads down the drain can have unseen environmental costs.

The tiny exfoliating scrubbers are often made out of a type of plastic called polyethylene, which you can easily spot on the ingredient list. Because these beads are plastic, they never biodegrade, but simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces over time.

Exfoliating Scrubs
Instead of scrubbing your face with plastic, try exfoliating scrubs with natural ingredients, like sugar. Photo By Pacific Paradise Soap/Courtesy Flickr.

These pieces can wind up in food sources for fish and other marine life because their small size allows them to float on the surface of water, potentially escaping the settling portion of water treatment processes. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation says that the plastic beads are easily mistaken for food by birds and fish because they usually end up floating near the surface of the water, which is a popular hangout for fish food like zooplankton. The foundation also found that in some areas of the ocean, broken-down pieces of plastic outweigh zooplankton by a factor of six to one. You are what you eat, and when we eat fish, we could be eating plastic, too.

After I learned how persistent these little bits of plastic can be, I was disheartened to find that I had been softening my skin with an exfoliating scrub made from tiny pollutants. Now I make sure to check the ingredient list, and I opt for exfoliating scrubs made from sugar, apricot or other natural ingredients.