Skincare Competence

Microplastics in Cosmetic Products: How to Avoid “Environmentally Unfriendly” Cosmetics

29 April 2024

As society becomes more conscious of the environmental impact of everyday items such as cosmetics, personal care products, and clothing, questions regarding the safety of their materials and ingredients highlight both existing and new concerns.

The environmental impact of plastic has been a subject of debate for many decades. However, with plastic’s popularity showing no sign of waning, what actions are companies taking to move away from a material known to be environmentally unfriendly? Microplastics are another cause for concern: these small synthetic polymers can be found in lots of manufactured products, including most mainstream cosmetics. But what are microplastics, how are they formed, and why are microplastics used in cosmetics?

In this article, we will provide a brief overview of microplastics and the role they play in cosmetics, discuss concerns about the safety of microplastics, and finally take a look at what ADA Cosmetics is doing to protect both human health and our planet’s ecosystems from environmentally unfriendly cosmetics.

What are Microplastics in Cosmetics?

Microplastics are any type of solid-state synthetic microparticle measuring 5mm or less in size. Microplastics are divided into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Both types of microplastics are synthetic polymers.

Primary microplastics are small, manufactured plastic particles for commercial production. Examples include the microbeads used in cosmetics, microfibers used in textiles, or plastic nurdles (pellets) used as a building material to manufacture other products.

By contrast, secondary microplastics are not intentionally manufactured to be small. They are the result of larger plastic items, that have been disposed of as waste, breaking down into small pieces that measure 5mm or less.

According to the Plastic Soup Foundation (a Dutch non-profit organization focused on ending plastic pollution), microplastics can be found in the ingredients of 87% of products from the leading cosmetics brands. These include shampoo, facial scrub, toothpaste, and makeup.

Why are Microplastics Used in Cosmetics?

Now that we understand what microplastics are and where they come from, let’s dive into why microplastics are used in cosmetics.

Microplastics are inexpensive, and are most commonly added to cosmetics as an exfoliator, stabilizer, or texture. In products such as facial scrub solutions, body wash gels, or other skin care products (collectively known as rinse-off cosmetics), microplastics are added in the form of microbeads to better exfoliate the skin.

Sometimes, they are used as an emulsifier to improve the consistency of the product or stabilize the solution. Microplastics are also commonly found in makeup items such as eyeshadow, blush, bronzer, lipstick, or lip gloss, to add sparkle or texture.

Despite the scientific evidence of damage caused by microplastics in our ecosystems, their use continues.

Are Microplastics Harmful?

In our environmentally conscious society, microplastics have earned a reputation as a notorious pollutant. While sizable pieces of plastic waste can be cleaned up with relative ease, microplastics are too small to be scooped up with a net or similar tool.

The accumulation of microplastics in the ocean is highly damaging. They not only pollute our waters, but are also often mistaken for food, by fish and other ocean life. These tiny plastic particles are consumed by small species of fish, krill, and other bottom feeders, which are then eaten by larger species such as whales or even seabirds.

Microplastics are non-biodegradable. Therefore, rather than cycling back into the environment, they will accumulate and continue to fragment into smaller particles over time. The accumulation of plastic pollution in natural ecosystems has been termed the ‘plastisphere’. The plastisphere can be found anywhere, from deep ocean trenches to landfill sites.

Unfortunately, a broad-brush ban on microplastics in cosmetics has not yet been implemented. However, the EU and U.S. governments are both making step-by-step efforts to pass legislation that controls the production and use of microplastics in cosmetics. Until more regulation has been passed, you can also help protect the environment by avoiding products that contain harmful microplastics. Instead, search for natural and biodegradable cosmetics without microplastic ingredients.

How to Avoid Microplastics

Microplastics, or microbeads, have many names, which differ according to their purpose, and the materials used to manufacture them. This means they can be difficult to identify when listed alongside other ingredients with scientific names. So how can you determine whether a product is environmentally unfriendly or not? Knowing which names to look for makes it easier to avoid microplastics. Below is a list of common microplastics found in cosmetics:

  • Acrylate Copolymer (AC)
  • Acrylate Crosspolymer (ACS)
  • Dimethiconol
  • Methicone
  • Polyamide (PA, Nylon)
  • Polyacrylate (PA)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Polyquaternium (PQ)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polypropylene glycol (PPG)
  • Polystyrene (PS)
  • Polyurethane (PUR)
  • Siloxane
  • Silsesquioxane

Cosmetics without Microplastics

Cosmetics are an everyday commodity in our modern world. From brushing our teeth to cleansing our skin or applying makeup, these products serve many purposes. So you may be wondering, “How can I find the hygiene and beauty products I need, while also choosing cosmetics without microplastics?”

At ADA Cosmetics, we are committed to reducing our environmental impact, and to improving the sustainability of our manufacturing processes and our products. In doing so, we also enable our customers to make planet-friendly choices. We continuously implement new protocols in accordance with the latest scientific research and environmental protection regulations.

To prevent water pollution, we have banned the use of microbeads and phased out liquid microplastics from our product formulas, replacing them with safe, natural alternatives. By banning microplastics, we aim to support the well-being of both humanity and the environment. To further advance these efforts, ADA Cosmetics follows a strict Responsible Sourcing Policy, which is updated annually.

We strive to ensure that our products are not only environmentally friendly, but also ethically responsible. ADA Cosmetics is built on the principles of human rights. We are adamant proponents of inclusivity and anti-discrimination, and deeply value our employees. To provide them with the best working environment and experiences, we offer training and development, health and wellness programs, and the opportunity to contribute to social initiatives and non-profit organizations that support communities around the world.


How are microplastics formed?

Microplastics fall into two categories: primary microplastics and secondary microplastics. Primary microplastics are manufactured microbeads, or plastic particles 1mm or less in size, that are used in cosmetics and personal care products. Secondary microplastics are larger pieces of plastic that have been broken down, by the weather or ocean waves, into small pieces measuring 5mm or less.

Where do microplastics come from?

Both primary and secondary microplastics are pollutants that come from manufactured sources, whether a face wash containing microbeads, or a plastic bottle. After use, microplastics tend to end up polluting the environment, especially the ocean.

Are microplastics banned in the U.S.?

In 2015, the U.S. government passed the Microbead-Free Waters Act to phase out the production and use of microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics by July 2017. Unfortunately, this ban is limited specifically to rinse-off cosmetics containing microbeads, such as shampoo, conditioner, and facial wash solutions. Therefore, microplastics are not entirely banned in the United States.