People often think that microplastics used in cosmetics are small plastic balls – for aesthetic, massage or scrubbing purposes. However, this is not the case, because in most cases microplastics in cosmetics are not physically felt as hard, tangible particles (Eng. – microbeads), but as an oil or emulsion. In total, there are about 500 different types of microplastics that are used in the production of cosmetics (1). You can definitely find it in your cosmetics too.
Nowadays, 9 out of 10 cosmetic products on the market contain microplastics (2). The wide availability of these products, including in pharmacies as dermocosmetics, due to their hypoallergenic properties, was the beginning of the victory march of microplastics that began in the 1970s. The medical system recommended the use of microplastic creams popularised by manufacturers of conventional cosmetics for allergic people and in cases of various skin diseases. However, it should be mentioned that the permeability of the skin barrier is much higher for these people than it is for healthy skin. As a result, more microplastics enter the body. Thus, the PEG paradox arises – in the short term it is non-allergenic, but in the long term the logical outcome is endocrine system diseases, increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity and constant chronic inflammation in the body.
FOR BETTER UNDERSTANDING
Microplastics are divided into primary and secondary microplastics. Primary is specially produced for the needs of the cosmetics or clothing industry to ensure the physical properties of the product. The secondary is formed by the separation of particles from larger plastic products (3). Both of these types are dangerous, but the possibilities for collecting and recycling large plastics are much, much greater than microplastics.
Primary microplastics used in cosmetics are developed to produce a cheap, inert (non-reactive) substance. Various substances or mixtures are incorporated into it, including active substances, thus obtaining a durable and easy-to-create emulsion (usually cream, milk, serum) in the production process.
It is a polymerisation reaction of monomers in the presence of various potentially hazardous substances, producing oily liquids of various gravities – polyethylene glycols (PEG), silicones, acrylic and nylon compounds, etc. (4). In principle, natural oils and emulsifiers are replaced with them. Therefore, the often-heard statement that natural cosmetics are not as effective as conventional (traditional) is very wrong from this point of view. Such oily fluids serve as vehicles or substances for the creation of sensory sensations and are completely useless for restoring the structure of the skin or providing its functions. Namely, if the oils are broken down into free fatty acids, processed into amino acids or sugars, which we use as a source necessary for metabolism, then plastic accumulates in our body as waste. Not only can it not be used for the maintenance of the body, but it is even harmful. And when you wash, it enters into the environment, and no household sewage treatment plant cleans these microplastic particles, just like pharmaceutical waste.
NO GOOD AT ALL
When it comes to health damage, 2022 was the year of discoveries of microplastics. It is found in almost everyone's blood, breast milk and amniotic fluid. Its ability to bind to haemoglobin in the body has been proven, thus reducing the natural circulation of oxygen (5). It has been observed in science that even the type of parent's diet, or phenofund, can influence the gene pool of children. Therefore, the question arises – what do we risk in such a case?
Today, dermatologists observe childhood diseases in the population of 50+ years, and it is at this age that women start buying and using cosmetics more and more, thus accumulating an even greater load of pollution in their bodies. Data analysts explain this with the reluctance to age and efforts to regain a youthful appearance. However, health benefits cannot be obtained with conventional cosmetics, unfortunately. There is still hope that the new generation, which currently pays much more attention to the origin of natural cosmetics, will not be prone to such age-related diseases – contact dermatitis, first-time allergies and inflammations. Unless our pollution exceeds the critical limit (6).
WHAT IS NOT FORBIDDEN IS ALLOWED
Many people object that it is not prohibited. Yes, it is not forbidden to use certain types of pesticides, but it is worth mentioning that this changes over time – these pesticides are recognised as dangerous, and others come in their place... Many things are not prohibited by law (and how many approaches in different countries) – but is it ethical?!
I suppose this rhetorical question will always be about individual values. However, it should be noted that these values not only threaten the health of planet Earth and humanity, but also cause huge economic losses (7). Already, scientists do not recommend eating Baltic Sea fish, which are at the top of the food chain, because the contamination of microplastics with hazardous waste in them is too great (8). The saying that Latvians are a nation of herring eaters is already vitally important for ensuring health.
The pollution of microplastics and related raw materials, such as phthalates, in water, air, and soil is huge (9). 42,000 tons (10) of cosmetic microplastics enter the waters of the European Union every year. A draft microplastic ban bill has already been published, but with a transition period of up to 12 years (11). The danger of plastic in the environment is related not only to mass pollution, but also to its high absorption capacity. Thus, absorbing all pollutants, toxic substances, heavy metals, etc.
If people had learned how to effectively clean fresh waters and seas from microplastic pollution, then in fact, historically polluted places – from war munitions, oil, etc. – could be cleaned very well with application of such technology. Unfortunately, for now and also in the nearest future, we will not be able to do this, therefore, we are currently endangering our health by consuming contaminated food and willingly rubbing microplastics into our skin.
AUTHOR: Dr. oec. LĪGA BRŪNIŅA, creator of LABRAINS brand, environmental specialist and chemist.
- Braun T, Ehrlich L, Henrich W, et al. Detection of microplastic in human placenta and meconium in a clinical setting. Pharmaceutics. 2021;13(7):921. doi:10.3390/pharmaceutics13070921
- Sazakli E, Leotsinidis M. Possibleeffectsofmicroplasticsonhumanhealth.MicroplasticsinWaterandWastewater.2020:177-190.doi:10.21 66/9781789061697_0177
- Akshay Kumar Chaudhry, Payal Sachdeva, Microplastics’ origin, distribution, and rising hazard to aquatic organisms and human health: Socio-economic insinuations and management solutions, Regional Studies in Marine Science, Volume 48, 2021, 102018, ISSN 2352-4855