More stealth plastic

After Mr Snail’s recent discovery of plastic in the ‘plastic-free’ Easter egg he was given, I have been thinking about ‘hidden’ plastics… you know the sort of thing – plastic coatings on the inside of cans and jar lids, plastics in your clothes and plastics in your toiletries. Yes, you read that right “in your toiletries” – I don’t mean around your toiletries in the form of plastic containers, I mean toothpaste and body washes that contain plastics. Specifically tiny plastic beads, otherwise known as microbeads.

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Plastic-free tea

Now, as you know, I was rather upset to discover a while ago that there was plastic IN my teabags and, as a result, I have converted to using loose tea and buying it unpackaged, using my own containers. So, the last thing I wanted to hear was that there might be secret plastics in my toiletries too. When I started investigating further, I discovered that all sorts of plastics – polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethlyl methacrylate (PMMA) andΒ  nylon – are put into all sorts of products – face soaps, body washes, toothpastes, lip gloss and nail polish. There are even plastic microbeads in some anti-aging makeup… you can fill the creases on your face with gunge containing plastic – nice!

Because these fragments of plastic are so small, they are easy for us to ignore and we might consider that this means they are not a problem, but in fact there are real issues. Microbeads don’t get filtered out of waste water in treatment plants, so they get right into the environment where they absorb toxins and are then consumed by aquatic life… some of which gets eaten by humans (poisoned plastic sashimi anyone?):

Plastic microbeads absorb persistent organic pollutants (long-lasting toxic chemicals like pesticides, flame retardants, motor oil and more) and other industrial chemicals that move up the food chain when the toxic-coated beads are consumed by fish and other marine organisms. A single microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it. (Plastic Microbeads 101)

And it’s all unnecessary! The plastic beads are used because they are slightly abrasive, but there are natural products that are suitable too – like good, old-fashioned pumice, or fully biodegradable apricot shells. Sadly, microbeads are cheap and not too abrasive, so you can be use products with them in every day (thus, potentially increasing consumption).

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

When I investigated my toiletries, however, I was able to breathe easy… my organic toothpaste was free of microbeads, as was my soap (it’s made by a local artisan, so I know exactly what’s in it, including a complete absence of palm oil). I don’t wear any makeup and I don’t have specific face wash (exfoliating or otherwise), so no worries there either. I’m certainly glad that I haven’t found another part of my life that I need to change because of stealth plastic!

If you want to make your concerns about these hidden plastics known, I encourage you to sign the petition on The Story of Stuff web site… just click here.


There is sound scientific research demonstrating the problems, including:

D. Barnes, F. Galgani, R. Thompson, M. Barlaz, Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 364, 1985-1998 (2009). In 2012, scientists found micro-beads numbering more than 450,000 per square kilometer in parts of the Great Lakes (

Yukie Mato, Tomohiko Isobe, Hideshige Takada, Haruyuki Kanehiro, Chiyoko Ohtake, and Tsuguchika Kaminuma, Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2001, 35 (2), pp 318–324 (

Chelsea M. Rochman, Eunha Hoh, Tomofumi Kurobe & Swee J. Teh, Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress, Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 3263 (

Leave a comment


  1. I get exhausted with the sheer selfishness, short-sightedness and stupidity of big business!

    Like you I am pleased my personal regime is simple and mostly homemade – I’m a big fan of coconut oil and baking soda and white vinegar. Most of my ‘beauty’ [ πŸ™‚ ] regime comes via coconut oil, a couple or three essential oils and a little BS – while the house is kept spotless with the BS/WV duo. I like knowing what is in the products I put in or on or around myself and my family!

    • I feel exactly the same… It seems that the only way forward is to simplify. I’m delighted with the soap I’m currently using – it’s lovely and supports a local maker who probably wouldn’t know where to get microbeads from even if she wanted to!! Years ago I was recommended a product called Stardrops for almost all cleaning uses. It probably isn’t environmentally friendly per se, but you dilute it with just a few drops in a pint of water… I’ve only ever bought one bottle and it’s still going strong, so it’s impact is probably minimal. I too use vinegar (although Mr Snail doesn’t like the smell). The sooner we abandon the big chemical producers the better.

  2. What a good thing I prefer to celebrate my wrinkles rather than conceal them… local goatsmilk soap…Hmmm the toothpaste may need further investigation.

    • You look lovely just the way you are. Anyway, who would want to hide their laughter lines – signs of a joyful life.

      • Awww, you say the sweetest things! As I have said elsewhere:
        Individuals are all
        The sum of their experiences.
        Why would I surrender mine
        For a face like an unwritten page?

  3. I remember hearing about these plastic beads but had forgotten about them. I know our organic toothpaste and soap doesn’t contain them and the handcream I make doesn’t either! But so many things contain a layer of plastic as part of the packaging these days… Much as I dislike giving the politicians apart from the Greens something to bash us with I say put a large tax on plastic oh and on aviation fuel too while you are at it!

  4. Are microbeads part of nano technology? Its use extends into areas like sunscreen. I don’t use very much in the way of ‘beauty’ products, and like Kate, hope I am celebrating my wrinkles! However, I haven’t taken a lot of notice of the products I do use. Hmmmm some investigation is needed. For Christmas presents my nephew gave us all plastic free toothbrushes, made from bamboo. It’s a bit like cleaning your teeth with a surfboard, but does the job.

  5. Erg, microplastics! They are also in laundry powders and detergents, spray cleaners, etc. So unnecessary and so horrible for the planet.I wish I could say I’m not contributing, but I have hiking clothes made from recycled plastic (I thought I was doing the right thing!) and other clothes with synthetic fibres, and the small threads and fibres that come off these in the washing machine are also microplastics that wash out to sea.

    As I can afford to I’m replacing synthetics with clothes made from bamboo and other natural fibres that are suited to being outdoorsy (cotton is a big no, sadly). Something has to be pretty broken in our economy when petro-chemical materials like plastics are considered cheap enough to just throw away.

  6. Great post and thanks for all the info. As you already pointed out thtere exist manifold ways to avoid plastic ingrediences or coatings. πŸ™‚

    Greetings from Germany,

  7. Gaa! I knew plastics were out of control, but not to the extent of being in detergents. Just checked that and I’m okay. Don’t use makeup, and tend to use hand made soaps . s and moisturizer Whew. Still, pretty alarming. Thanks for the alert!

  8. It’s so overwhelming, to think of how widespread this issue is! But I guess if we each change what we can, it’ll help. Many drops will turn the mill . . .

  9. Good grief, there is so much digging necessary to figure out what’s what. Thanks for all the links. I still can’t get over the idea of plastic in tea bags.

  10. It is so mind bogglingly bonkers what human are doing to themselves. each other and our environment. Thanks for telling us about this – I had no idea!!! My ‘regime’ too is simple and minimal but I will look much more carefully in future.

  11. This is a fabulous post!!! I’ve seen a bunch of stuff on microbeads but the awareness level is still pretty low on the hidden plastic story. Thx for sharing!

  12. We’ve gone obliviously along for so many years not realizing we were being sold a bill of goods and assuming that what we were using and buying was safe. By the time we found out, it was already to late and the damage has been done. Can it be repaired? Maybe a few generations down the road. I had to give up makeup 5 years ago but before that would have defended it as absolutely necessary. Now, I have learned so much and trying hard to do better in every area. Too soon old, too late smart. I’m not sure this is a battle that can be won but we have to keep trying.

  1. Where the snail leads… | The Snail of Happiness

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