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clean pores, dirty ocean?

September 12th, 2008     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

I just came across a rather alarming discovery, in Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us. We all know that plastics break down slowly in the environment and are hazardous for sea animals, who swallow undigestible chunks of our garbage and either choke to death or die slowly of intestinal obstructions. Well, as it turns out, one source of nearly-microscopic plastic is coming from, you guessed it, women’s beauty products.

You know those facial scrubs that contain “micro-scrubbers”, exfoliants which are supposed to scrub your pores clean and leave your face soft and blemish-free? Clean & Clear Daily Pore Scrubber uses them. So does Proactiv Solution, which I’ve been using for about a year now due to two of life’s cruellest words: adult acne. Those “micro-scrubbers” are, I found out, made up of tiny spheres of polyethylene. Plastic. Tiny plastic balls which are sold to be washed directly down the drain, into our water system. And they’re so tiny that they are basically impossible to filter out.

Now, in the interest of avoiding lawsuits, I should say that so far no one has really raised the alarm about this, and there’s not a lot of hard proof out there that micro-scrubbers are killing off ocean life. I did find this article, which mentions that it may pose a “minor threat”. Thing is, plastic has been around for so short a time that we don’t really know its long term effects at all (though more and more evidence is cropping up lately). But it seems to me that millions of people inserting unmeasurable amounts of microscopic plastic into the oceans is probably not going to be okay.

Part of me is infuriated that no one mentioned this to me before. It bothers me to no end that while I compost, ride a bike, use all eco-friendly house products and eat mostly local, organic food, I’m still unknowingly pouring potentially lethal crud down the drain. And so are tons of women, who, like me, never thought to check their face wash for plastic products. Another part of me feels pretty dumb - what did I think those scrubby bits were made of, magic elf-powder? Good vibes? (Though it should be noted, some body scrubs are okay - they’re made of things like crushed almonds and jojoba, which are safer for water systems and animals.) And a third part, one I try to but can’t always ignore, is like “GOOD GOD! YOU CAN’T STOP MICRO-SCRUBBING! DO YOU WANT TO YOUR FACE TO LOOK LIKE SOMEONE ORDERED IT FROM A PIZZERIA?!?” I mean, yeesh, I finally find something that kind of helps my skin, and it turns out it might be a baby-turtle killer? Oh, the injustice.

Has anyone else dealt with this before? What do you think?

Tags: body politics, eco speak

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