Microplastics reaching humans through cosmetic products

January 13, 2022
Cellugy's Newsletter: Leveraging the power of biocellulose

Microplastics reaching humans through cosmetic products

Different people have different morning routines. Some people need their morning coffee and a quick fix of morning news, while others are in a rush to get out of the door. However, if you are one of those people who spend time applying cosmetic products to your face, body, or hair each morning, you may want to read on.

The cosmetics and personal care industry are using very small particles of plastic in cosmetics to give their products desired properties and functionality. It is estimated that women put between 68 to 168 chemicals on their bodies each day[1] containing billions of microplastic particles[2]. In Cellugy, we have decided to research how our biocellulose-based ingredient, EcoFLEXY, can be used as a replacement for plastic and other polluting chemicals in cosmetics. By using EcoFLEXY, we reduce pollution in the production of cosmetics while we minimize the amount of microplastic and chemicals in your body. We have also decided to write this article, so you can get wiser on the topic.


The presence of microplastic in cosmetics

There are many different plastic categories included in cosmetics and personal care products, like thermoplastics and thermoset plastics including silicones. The role of the materials covers: film formation, regulating viscosity, skin conditioning, sun filters, prolonging shelf life, encapsulating fragrances, emulsion stabilizing and more[3]. And when you use soap, shampoo, deodorant, face creams, toothpaste, nail care, lotions, hair coloring, insect repellents, moisturizer, shaving cream, sunscreen, face masks, lipstick, foundations, mascara, eye shadows, or even kid’s bubble bath there is a great risk that the products contain harmful plastic.

Let’s dive into a specific example. The glitter in eye shadows is made of metalized PET and it is used for decoration purposes. Glitter is used more widely in cosmetic products than microbeads, but surprisingly it has not received much attention from scientists specialized in environmental contamination by microplastics, mainly because it sinks in sediments and most studies take samples of microplastics from the surface. Glitter can be as harmful as any other microplastic, and it is easy to distinct from other primary and secondary microplastics[4].

Plastic ingredients are present in different products at different percentages, ranging from a fraction of a percent to more than 90% in some cases. The discussion here is directed to solid, plastic particles that are harmful to the human body and are considered to be marine litter if reaching the environment. Cosmetic and personal care industries claim that, except for solid microplastics, most other polymers in their formulas are in liquid form, thus, they are not harmful[5].


Consequences for the environment

There seems to be a trail of microplastics from cosmetics to the environment to humans. Personal care and cosmetics products contain mixtures of microbeads (subcategory of microplastics) of different sizes and properties, depending on the color or the material they are made of. It has been reported that 4139 tones[6] of microbeads are used in cosmetics per year in EU countries alone. Further research shows that an average of 306,9 tons[7] of microbeads per year are emitted in the aquatic environment in mainland China. The contributions of regions and countries to the environmental input of microbeads are in different proportions, but nevertheless substantial. Some of the products with high input of microbeads are facial cleanser and scrubs, body scrubs and shower gels, and toothpaste.

Once microplastics and microbeads are in rivers, lakes and water streams, different species ingest them, like species of vertebrate, zooplankton, worms and mussels[8]. This is due to the size of microplastics, comparable to the natural food of these aquatic organisms, which later provide implication to human health too. Considering the data, we are presented with many consumer choices to effectively reduce the environmental emission of microplastics. Such choice, hopefully, will influence the decision makers in the personal care and cosmetics industries to change the approach, and adapt sustainable alternatives like EcoFLEXY.

At Cellugy, our ambition is to empower business owners to create clean and natural cosmetics that are less harmful to the environment and to the people who use them. By doing so, you can hopefully carry on with your morning routine with a clean conscience.


[1] Women Put an Average of 168 Chemicals on Their Bodies Each Day, Consumer Group Says - ABC News (go.com)

[2] Are there trillions of microplastics in your sunscreen right now? | Vogue India (ampproject.org)

[3] European Chemicals Agency, 2019;UNEP, 2015

[4] Tagg and Ivar do Sul, 2019;Yurtsever, 2019a

[5] Dauvergne, 2018

[6] Gouin, T., Avalos, J., Brunning,I., Brzuska, K., De Graaf, J., Kaumanns, J., ... & Wolf, T. (2015). Use ofmicro-plastic beads in cosmetic products in Europe and their estimatedemissions to the North Sea environment. SOFW J, 141(4), 40-46.

[7] Cheung, P. K., & Fok, L.(2017). Characterisation of plastic microbeads in facial scrubs and theirestimated emissions in Mainland China. Water research, 122,53-61.

[8] EFSA CONTAM Panel (EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain), 2016. Statement on the presence ofmicroplastics and nanoplastics in food, with particular focus on seafood. EFSA J. 14, 4501–4531.