Microplastics in cosmetics, a problem that gets worse and more complicated

Microplastics in cosmetics are a growing problem. There has been a lot of discussion about plastic lately, some people may say even too much. But talking about plastic is not at all waste of time. Plastics will remain a global, very difficult problem in the future. The problems caused by plastics cannot be solved easily.

micro-palstic-in cosmetic
  • Many people think that micro-plastics are prohibited in cosmetics. This is not true.
  • Many people think that the cosmetics industry is abandoning the use of plastics in cosmetics. This is not true.
  • Many people believe that the problem is solved by stopping the use of microplastics in cosmetics. This is not true.

I wanted to write about the use of microplastics in cosmetics to make it clear to you why you should make your own cosmetics. Commercial cosmetics is far from what it promises. Many expensive, top of the line – products use the image of herbs, flowers and marine minerals to give impression that the product is a natural one. The truth is pretty scary. Many products associated with organic production are scams. The products contain large amounts of plastic and synthetic polymers mentioned to spread around the skin. There may be a small quantity of some herb added to the mix.

Synthetic Polymers

I also wanted to clarify misunderstandings about synthetic polymers in cosmetics, the main raw material for plastics. For us, ordinary consumers, synthetic polymers and plastics are the same thing. However, the cosmetics industry wants and keeps them separate. Therefore, there is no progress in the debate about using plastics in cosmetics.

Why spoil cosmetics with synthetic ingredients

I have often wondered why many well-known cosmetic manufacturers wants to ruin their reputation by using plastic and synthetic polymers in their products. Tiny little glass can containing beauty cream may cost hundreds of euros, but the content is cheap, synthetic product not suitable to the skin. I think it is not worth wasting money on such rubbish.

How to know is there any plastic in the product?

Even when asking the seller is there any plastic in the product, the answer is often a strict no. Now, be surprised: the seller is telling the truth. Although the product is full of synthetic polymers, it may not contain the actual plastic.There are many good alternatives to synthetic cosmetics at the end of this article.

Microplastics in cosmetics is a problem that is getting worse and more complicated. Learn how you can avoid plastics and synthetic ingredients in cosmetics and how to be sure whether or not there are plastics or plastic-like ingredients in the product.

What is plastic

micro-palstic-in cosmetic

Plastic is a mixture of synthetic polymers and other chemicals. When hardeners and other chemicals are added to synthetic polymers, it becomes plastic. With the help of heat, various products can be formed. Because its plasticity, it is called plastic.

However, the biggest and most important ingredient in plastics is synthetic polymers. Synthetic polymers are generally made from oil, but can also be made from starch.

What are the Microplastics in cosmetics?

PCCP plastics used in cosmetics are called micro pearls, nano pearls, microplastic particles, microparticles and nanoparticles. They are indeed plastic. Microplastic particles have a size of less than 5 millimetres but more than 0.5 millimetres. Plastic particles less than 0.5 millimetres in diameter are nano-plastics. Micro plastics are made of various polymers and other chemicals.

What are the synthetic polymers used in cosmetics?

Cosmetics are rich in various synthetic polymers that are the most important ingredients of plastics. By definition they are not really plastics, though they are often popularly called plastics. In fact, there is a huge number of synthetic polymers used in cosmetics, at the moment some +500 different and the list is growing. They may be in the form of very fine powder or, as a liquid ingredient in the product.

Synthetic polymers do not belong on the skin

Synthetic polymers generally have all the same problems as plastics. They are synthetic compounds developed in laboratories. Synthetic polymers do not belong on the skin or to the nature.

Harmful environmental effects of plastics and synthetic polymers

The main problem with plastics and synthetic polymers is that they virtually never decompose or are very slowly decomposable. When micro-plastic gets into water or elsewhere in environment it does not decompose like natural materials. Of course, some decomposing occurs over hundreds of years. However, the decomposing time is so long that plastic will do irreversible damage in nature.

The long-term effects of synthetic polymers on nature and humans are unknown. Their use in cosmetics is not acceptable.

It is very difficult to remove plastics from waste water

micro-palstic-in cosmetic

Cosmetic giants claim that 99% of cosmetic plastics can be filtered in wastewater treatment plants. Well, the problem is that there are no wastewater treatment plants enough around the world.

In many countries, sewage sludge is used as an agricultural fertilizer. This is how plastics find the way to the soil and ecosystem.

The Earth belongs to all of us. Although here in Finland we do purify waste waters and are giving up micro-plastics, this is not the case in many countries. With the currents of the oceans, waste finds slowly its way also to everywhere.

Micro-plastics do not disappear anywhere

Micro-plastics do not disappear anywhere in the wastewater treatment process. Although 99% of microplastics are recovered and collected through wastewater treatment, it is still estimated that there are between 110,000 and 750,000 tonnes of microplastic materials transferred to fields with wastewater treatment plant’s sludge. From fields, they slowly drift into the water systems with rains, floods and through rivers. This has been noticed by Norwegian researcher Luca Nizzetto. It is a huge amount of plastic. The amount of micro-plastics in the world is constantly growing.

How such an amount of plastic can be ever cleaned? And by whom, by whose resources and money? The wastewater treatment process should also be modified to recover and pick up plastics from waste waters.

In what products are microplastics used

Micro-plastics and synthetic polymers are used in cosmetics throughout the product range. You can find them in lipsticks, face creams, baby lotions, shower gels, shampoos, conditioners, colour cosmetics and sun protection products.

Peeling shower gels

There is one group of products in where large quantities of microplastics are used. It is a peeling shower gel. It can contain up to 90% plastic. You can always recycle the plastic tube of the product, but you cannot recycle the microplastic particles of the product. Unfortunately, they always end up in the drain. In wastewater treatment plants, plastic does not decompose. It should be picked up by some means. It is not easy to remove very small micro-plastics from waste water. Despite purification, some plastics end up in water systems and in the nature. Some plastic remains in the disposal waste. Some sludge is used to fertilize fields. In dumps and fields, plastics do not decompose but do harm for hundreds of years.

Why synthetic ingredients are used in cosmetics?

Microplastics in cosmetics. Glitters are part of problem

Synthetic polymers are used in cosmetics for a number of purposes. Synthetic polymers act as thickeners, exfoliators, emulsifiers, active ingredients for the appearance of the product, and for many other purposes.

Fully synthetic polymers remain undamaged in the product. Synthetic polymers also do not react easily with other ingredients.

Plastic and synthetic polymers are very common in cosmetics

According to reliable statistics, in the European Union alone (Switzerland and Norway included), 4,360 metric tons (9612 lbs tons) of plastic was added to cosmetics in 2012. That’s a huge amount for just one year. However, cosmetic plastic is a very marginal item compared to plastic used in packaging industry.

Names of synthetic polymers are not known to the consumer

At present, it is very difficult for the consumer not to use cosmetics containing plastic and synthetic polymers. The INCI names of synthetic polymers are not known to the consumer and the product information does not directly state that the product contains plastic.

In addition to microplastics, cosmetics contain considerable amounts of nanoparticles and liquid synthetic polymers. No one can see them. Only few consumers understand that they are applying synthetic polymers to their skin.

Plastic and synthetic ingredients are entering to cosmetics and care products in pharmacies

The pharmacy’s basic cream is believed to contain only well-considered, skin-friendly ingredients. In reality, they all contain synthetic polymers in different forms. Medical Industry is a major consumer of synthetic polymers.

Studies show that all major cosmetic giants use synthetic polymers without any hesitation in most of their products. Although we have heard in their speeches about their disapproval of the release of micro-plastics into water systems, nothing has happened in practice. The situation has even worsened and they want to cover up the truth. Manufacturers benefit from the fact that the consumer only talk about microplastics, when in reality all synthetic polymers should be talked about.

Microplastics in cosmetics, a problem that gets worse and more complicated


Internationally, the decision makers, parliament members, governmental bodies have already awakened to the problem of microplastics. The problem is not easy to solve. Plastics and synthetic polymers are chemically complex substances. The industry is constantly developing new synthetic compounds with similar properties to plastics. Even if the plastics themselves were banned, there would be a huge spectrum of synthetic polymers left that should be banned compound by compound. Such an action would paralyze the authorization procedure and is therefore not possible.

Authorities are uncertain

Product developers are incredibly agile when it comes to circumventing laws. As a result, environmentalists have not yet been able to precisely define what is plastic and which synthetic polymers are harmful and which ingredients should be banned. In fact, most of these chemicals have never been sufficiently researched. Does it sound like kindergarten talk? I think so too.

Situation of microplastics in the European Union

Microplastics in cosmetics, ( or plastic pearls), will be banned throughout the EU. Synthetic polymers have not even been discussed yet. or plastic pearls

However, the ban of micro-plastics in cosmetics is only at the stage of discussion. There is no agreement in sight. The cosmetics industry is doing their best to avoid any changes the recipes of their products. That would be very expensive and would limit their possibilities to maximize profits. And, there are some products that cannot be produced without plastic.


For example, the ban on glitter is a hot topic in various European countries and in the European Union. In the beginning, we were pretty sure that all glitter products would soon disappear from the market and there would be no new ones available. Now, the matter is once again buried in one of the EU parliament working groups. Hardly anything happens for a long time. Glitters are popular, cheap and easy to make. The industry does not want to lose business.

The whole world is fighting against microplastics in cosmetics

In 2012, the Plastic Soup Foundation launched a battle against microplastics. There are now nearly a hundred organizations around the world supporting the idea. The organization awards all cosmetic brands that are 100% plastic free giving the right to use the Zero Plastic Inside logo. There are now 61 cosmetics brands carrying this logo.

The United Nations Environment Program has also taken action to address the use of plastics. They are worried about plastics in cosmetics and generally about plastic consumption. The biggest problem seems to be what to do with the used, waste plastic.

What I and you can do

Well, we can do a lot.

We are consumers and as consumers we decide what we buy. Because it is so difficult to define micro-plastics and synthetic polymers and to plug loopholes in the greedy cosmetics industry, it is best to use only natural cosmetics.

Here are some ways you can avoid using micro plastics

  • Buy genuine natural cosmetics that never contain any plastic or synthetic polymers in any form
  • Do not buy glitter, even for children
  • If you buy cosmetic products, make sure that the product does not contain any plastics or synthetic polymers. It’s tricky because plastics have many different names.
  • Install the CosmEthics app on your mobile, even here. You can then scan the bar code of the cosmetic product in the shop to see if the product contains plastic.
  • Get your cosmetics only from reputable vendors and spend some time when doing purchases. Impulse purchases may go wrong and you’ll find out the truth only at home.

Completely plastic free cosmetics


There are, of course, cosmetics that are completely plastic-free and without any synthetic ingredients.

Even in the supermarket there is some cosmetics without synthetic ingredients. However, you must read the INCI to be sure. There are no shelves for chemicals-free cosmetics. Everything there is mixed, and unfortunately you have to spend some time searching for genuine, chemical-free products.

Certified Natural Cosmetics

Another, better option is certified Natural Cosmetics. In certified natural cosmetics, there could never be a microplastic problem. Micro-plastics and synthetic ingredients are completely prohibited in natural cosmetics. Products with ingredients that are allowed in natural cosmetics will be certified as organic cosmetics. If one of the raw materials is not allowed in natural cosmetics, the product cannot be certified as natural cosmetics. This is a very ingenious and fair system. All you have to do is check the certificate on the package.

Almost all microplastic is still allowed

In conventional cosmetics, there are only a few substances that are totally banned, as well as some substances with limited use. All other compounds are allowed. Such a policy has led to banning of one ingredient, and then the industry has prepared another one with a slightly different prescription, and then the new one was immediately accepted. This has happened with different polymers and plastics. This kind of policy offers no solutions and benefits no one – except cosmetic giants.

Make your own cosmetics

You can also make some of the cosmetics you need by yourself. Here, on the Recipes tab of helenatur.com website you can find Instructions for making your own cosmetics.

There are no plastic or synthetic ingredients in materials available for home cosmetics makers. You can be quite sure that the products you make yourself are free of micro-plastics.

When doing home cosmetics, you can also avoid plastics in another way. You can get the packaging for creams and other products made of glass. Glass packaging is more hygienic than plastic. You can use them again and again. There is another problem with plastic: small pieces of plastic are getting loose from the item all the time. You will notice this as the plastic wears and scratches. This is not the case with glass. Under normal use, the glass will not scratch at all.

I have now told you everything I know about cosmetics, plastics, and synthetic polymers. This has been a bit of a boring subject and there is plenty of chemistry involved. My apologies for that, and thank you for your time for reading my post.

However, the matter is very important and I hope you got the idea how to avoid plastics in cosmetics.

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