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You’ve probably heard that age-old saying that “beauty is pain.” Unfortunately, this statement is proving to be true when we think about where plastics are showing up in personal care items. Whether it’s plastic microbeads added as scrubbing elements to face washes and toothpastes, or the myriad of plastic bottles and containers that house much of our beauty products, plastic is everywhere. And those plastics are proving more and more to be quite painful not only to the environment but also to us.

Now, plastic has proven to be quite useful when it comes to packaging cosmetics, moisturizers, hair care products and the wide assortment of other items we use on a daily basis to maintain our physical appearance. They are, ideally, sturdy and dependable for keeping a variety of serums and solutions at your fingertips, ready to use. They are also easy to throw in a purse or overnight bag to keep your look fresh and clean even when you’re on the go.

Yet, in spite of the simplicity that plastics may appear to bring to our beauty and self-care routines, they are proving to be downright ugly when you consider that 552 million 15-ounce shampoo bottles – enough to fill 1,164 football fields– find their way into landfills each year. (And this is just shampoo!) The majority of plastics created on land will find their way into the ocean where they slowly break down into smaller and smaller bits – never truly “disappearing” – releasing harmful toxins into the environment as they go.

While your personal beauty routine might not seem like the first place you would look to eliminate plastic, given the detrimental impact that the plastic packaging and plastic ingredients that these products contain can have on the health of the planet and people, it suddenly seems like a great place to start. 

Rubbing Plastic All Over Yourself Isn’t Actually Good For You

Plastic microbeads from beauty and personal care items have really come under attack lately for the environmental destruction they’re causing. These tiny plastic particles measuring just two millimeters in size are showing up in our lakes and rivers and are even entering the food web when they’re mistaken for food by microorganisms. Unfortunately, the trouble with microbeads doesn’t begin and end with the problems they’re causing for aquatic ecosystems. These little monsters are also seen as a nasty way to expose our bodies to chemicals and toxins.

Do you use toothpaste with plastic microbeads intended to scrub your teeth? Chances are, if you use extra-whitening toothpaste, like Crest 3D White, microbeads are added for “extra cleaning” power. To find out if your toothpaste contains microbeads, check out the Beat the Bead app. While this may sound like a nice gesture, dentists are finding that the use of plastic microbeads on our teeth can be dangerous. The microbeads have a tendency to get stuck between teeth and gum where they have no chance of degrading naturally. If not removed with a toothbrush or floss, they can trap bacteria and lead to a nasty infection. That’s probably the opposite result you were looking for when you brush your teeth.

The Ugly Truth About Beauty: How Toxic Plastics Dominate Your Personal Care Routine and How You Can Put A Stop To It

Kenneth Lu/ Flickr

Plastic microbeads in our toothpaste are only one problem. They are also commonly found in face scrubs and body washes, promising to remove dead, lifeless skin. For one thing, microbeads, which are made of polyethylene, can act as irritants, especially on sensitive skin. And once you’ve washed those plastic bits down the sink, they can still come back to haunt you. They end up in the ocean or a lake where they attract pollutants like PCB’s and DDT. The microbeads and their accumulated toxins end up in the food web as they’re gobbled up by larger and larger predators, and possibly even end up on your dinner plate one day should you eat fish. All those nasty outcomes, just from the plastics in your beauty regime!

Plastic Containers – There’s Gotta Be A Better Way!

Plastic containers are just another way we invite toxins into our beauty routine. While many plastic containers used for personal care products are made of plastics that pose less harm to human health, they are certainly not without risk.

First off, you may have removed plastics largely from your kitchen – but there’s a chance that your bathroom is another story. Studies show that only one in five people consistently recycle plastics from personal care products. Plastics are the most common form of packaging for personal care items and thus are likely to have you contributing a good amount of plastics to your municipal waste management service. According to findings from Consumer Reports, disposal of consumer products is the primary cause for contamination of fresh and ocean waters in industrialized nations. TerraCycle runs a program called the Personal Care and Beauty Brigade that collects plastic personal care product bottles. Since 2011, they have collected a total of 2.8 million pieces of beauty waste! When you think about the sheer number of different bottles and tubes you have in your bathroom cabinet … are you really that surprised?

Not to mention, manufacturing the plastic bottles for our shampoo bottles and lipstick cases releases toxins like phthalates into the air. In order to make plastic bottles “squeezable,” manufacturers add phthalates – these compounds are responsible for that plastic smell we all know and “love.”

Unfortunately, if we can smell the plastic, it means we are inhaling these compounds. Things start to go from pretty to ugly pretty quick when you consider that phthalates are known to be endocrine disruptors that have been found to impact our hormones and cause serious health problems. And then there’s the problem that discarded plastics present to our waterways where they break down and accumulate toxins, as mentioned above, eventually releasing them into the human body through direct exposure of the consumption of seafood. Again, such toxins impact on our health and it’s partially due to the plastics we use on a daily basis to maintain our appearance.

How to Be Pretty and Plastic-Free

Are you ready to make some changes to your daily beauty routine that will help you avoid unnecessary and toxic plastics? Awesome! Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Utilize the Power of Essential Oils. Essential oils are most commonly sold in glass bottles as opposed to plastic ones, and they can come in handy for a variety of uses. In place of body sprays packaged in plastic bottles, try using essential oils to give you a delicious scent without the plastic packaging. Essential oils also are great to use in a bath in place of bottled bubble baths and soaks. A few drops of lavender will help calm your nerves after a long day, and peppermint is a great way to energize your senses and skin.
  • Exfoliate without Plastic. Luckily, there are a variety of plastic-free alternatives to scrubbing with microbeads. Ground-up nut shells, oatmeal, sugar, and coffee grounds are just a few ideas for some skin revival treatments that keep plastic out of the picture.
  • Experiment with Coconut Oil. A glass jar of coconut oil is a great way to get away from throngs of plastic bottles while still being able to take care of your skin. Just a few ideas for use include using it as a hair mask, a skin moisturizer, a lip moisturizer, and shaving gel/cream. Actually, one jar of coconut oil could probably replace several plastic bottles in your bathroom!
  • Try Out Some DIY Beauty Ideas. What about making your own body scrub you store in a mason jar, your own shampoo that lets you re-use an old bottle, or your own toothpaste that relies on baking soda as a scrubbing agent? Avoiding store-bought bath products is a great way to avoid the plastics that typically accompany them.

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