Plastic is not fantastic in our...skincare
Over the last few months, we have been sharing our research on microplastics; what they are, how they get into the ocean, why they are an issue and importantly, what we can be doing about them.
We found that most microplastics start as something much bigger – plastic bottles, containers, cigarette butts and even car tyres. Whilst evidence is still pending on how microplastics are damaging our bodies, when we consume them through our food and our water, volumes of evidence show that microplastics are damaging our ocean environments and a variety of marine species.
Clean Sailors Crew member, Sara, looks at the microplastics found in our personal care products – the kind of microplastics we are flushing down the drain...
As we sail our boats around the seven seas, gain experiences of new areas, spend time with loved ones, explore the world and take advantage of our beautiful ocean that we love so much, do we ever stop to think about the great responsibility we have to protect the ocean?
There are plastics in our personal products
Our favourite go-to products, miracle workers. We use them every day, the deodorants, facial cream, hand cream, toothpaste, body lotion, shower gel, shampoo, hand soap and a lot of other products. We see our favourite brands on tv commercials, social media, posters in town and are affected by the merchandising of the biggest brands. We see these products around us daily and they are not hard to get a hold of. Our products help us out when we have a bad hair day, our skin is dry or burnt, and when we need clean teeth or bodies. But what if we stop for a second and ask ourselves the questions: What does my favourite face cream contain? What is in this deodorant? Is this body lotion helping my skin at all? Where do the molecules from my soap end up?
In this article I will tell you about the plastic in our care products, probably give you some more questions to think about and hopefully give you a bit more insight into what a lot of our products contain and how these ingredients affect our environment.
A quick reminder about microplastics
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic less than 5mm in size. They are small enough to enter all sorts of places and hard to get rid of as they often are too tiny to see. Microplastics can vary in size, and as they take up to thousands of years to degrade - they are not leaving our planet any time soon.
Microbeads are small pieces of plastic which are added to facewashes, shampoos, cosmetics, exfoliators, toothpaste and a lot of other personal care products. These plastic pieces are often small enough to see or feel and are added with the purpose of acting as a 'scrub'. As we use our daily shampoo, shower gel or exfoliating cream, we are often actually scrubbing our face with plastic. Microplastics are transferred directly from our bathrooms and kitchen sinks into the ocean as the plastic is too small for current waste water treatment plants to capture. On boats there are no sewage system at all for our showers and sinks and therefore everything we flush down the drain whilst on our boats ends up in the ocean.
Another issue with personal care products is the packing it often comes in. It is known that personal care products have a need for solid packing so that the products are preserved, protected and transported without damage, and this solid packaging is often made of plastic. We have products that are single-use and other products that we finish within a week, and the plastic often does not get recycled, due to issues cleaning the plastic. Tonnes of plastics from packaging and personal care products are ending up as landfill and waste and this plastic is again breaking down into microplastics and ending up in our seas.
Microplastics are causing serious damage to our marine environments, as due to the small size of the plastic pieces, marine animals such as fish, birds, plankton, and whales are ingesting it. This is leading to death of marine life, destruction of flora and fauna, and passing up microplastics in the food chain as we ingest the marine animals. Microplastics are easily transported all over the world by the sea, and they have also been found in our rain and in the wind. Scientists are also concerned about the future effects on our lungs when microplastics reach respiratory size.
Microbeads are still a great concern for our oceans and environment and have received a lot of attention in the last years. This has led to banning of microbeads in personal care products in several countries. Let us hope more countries will follow their example, and in the meantime; lets focus on what we can do as individuals and as sailors...
How we can avoid plastic products
Why would we expose our bodies and environment to microplastics and toxic chemicals when there are great natural alternatives? We know that there are many products out there with no toxic chemicals added, no plastic compounds covered up by difficult names with no plastic packing. More and more companies are making products containing natural ingredients with a focus on sustainable packing and a healthier skin.
Keep an eye out for microplastics in your personal care products and download the app Beat The Microbead. With this app you can scan the ingredients in your products and if they contain microplastics, you will be able to see which ingredient it applies to.
Look for names such as: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon (PA).
Try to buy products local and with a focus on sustainable production and packing. Also, look for the Zero logo to make sure that your product is 100% free of any microplastic ingredients. Choosing plastic free does not have to be hard; for example, you can switch to soap and shampoo bars instead of plastic bottles. Not only is this better for your skin and the environment, but it is also cheaper as the bars often last longer. Go plastic free, inside out!
As sailors it is our responsibility to take care of our oceans, so let us work together to protect our seas, preserve our environment and make sure that our children and grandchildren will get the same opportunity as we do to sail the seas. Alone we will not be able to do much in the big picture, but together we can do great work!
Have you found a great natural brands for your personal care products?