Slate, YahooGreen, and now EarthFirst are reporting that the tiny exfoliating beads in many facial scrubs are made of polyethylene, and once the beads get washed down the drain and make their way to the ocean, it’s time for Nemo and friends to get ill. (Of course, polyethylene’s also a suspected carcinogen, and as a plastic, its production is fossil fuel-intensive.)
[L]aboratory experiments have shown that a range of bottom-of-the-food-chain critters — including mussels, barnacles, lugworms, and tiny crustaceans called amphipods — will ingest the particles, which may then remain in their digestive tracts or migrate to other body tissue. New research also suggests that polyethylene is an excellent transporter of phenanthrene, a byproduct of fossil fuel burning that’s a dangerous ocean pollutant.
A Procter & Gamble spokesperson told Slate that the beads get filtered out during sewage treatment, but the process isn’t designed to keep out particles that small (under a millimeter). YahooGreen advises avoiding scrubs by Olay, Neutrogena, Dove, and Aveeno, to name a few, and lists some alternatives, including making your own.