The serious danger of microplastics

Plastic is one of the main reasons for our enormous environmental pollution problem. It is virtually non-biodegradable and take centuries to fully decompose. Take, for example, a plastic bag: it doesn’t simply rot away after a while. Instead, it splits into smaller particles – macro and microplastics, also known as primary and secondary plastics – which are even more damaging for our atmosphere. Plastic makes its way into all areas of our lives including many everyday objects, particularly packaging, where it is mainly superfluous. This means that throughout our everyday life, we are causing significant damage to the environment – damage that is further exacerbated by the fact that macro and microplastics have a similar density to water, posing a high risk for aquatic organisms in particular. Due to their size, these plastics do not settle on the sea bed but float in or on the water, meaning they can be found in all marine regions. These materials originate from our industries and our everyday life and end up in the world around us. They are practically omnipresent and end up being introduced into the ground and all bodies of water. For instance, they travel via our wastewater through rivers and into the ocean or are blown there on the wind where they are consumed by animals and various other organisms. We then consume these animals and the microplastics end up on our plates, entering our bodies and accumulating through food intake. They are indigestible and can cause biochemical process disorders such as hormone imbalances.

Microplastics in cosmetics

Microplastic_Ocean_ENThe general public often views the cosmetic industry as being one of the main perpetrators of this problem. Even though the cosmetics industry can fully do without microplastics, and Cosphatec and other providers have various alternatives available, it is unfortunately true that non-biodegradable microplastics are still being used in cosmetic products.

Generally, a differentiation is made between macro and microplastics (< 5 mm). Macroplastics include plastic bags and ghost nets. Microplastics can be macroplastics that have broken down over time (secondary microplastics) or they can be plastic particles that started off being that size.

Functions in cosmetic products

INCI-List - Microplastic in CosmeticsThis latter type of microplastics can be found in cosmetic products where it has a wide range of uses, including tiny plastic particles that work as an abrasive. They are added to scrubs and toothpaste as exfoliating agents and include polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon (see table). These are on the INCI list as forms of microplastics that can be felt on the skin. Most manufacturers are making immense efforts to avoid the use of these kinds of microplastics and to replace them with natural and plant-based raw materials such as wood or corn. In many countries, this form of plastic in cosmetics has already been banned.

It is more complicated to replace the microplastics (synthetic polymers) that give products their consistency. These are liquid polymers that are dissolved in the product and make bubble bath or body lotion feel good on your skin, make it easier to comb your hair after using shampoo and put the “stick” into lipstick. These substances, examples of which include acrylic acid copolymers, polyethylene glycol, polyurethane and silicone oils (see table), are however just as non-biodegradable as the aforementioned exfoliants and also have a negative impact on the environment and living organisms. Moreover, plastics can also bind harmful substances such as phthalates (plasticisers), silicones or the endocrine-disruptive bisphenol A (BPA).

Our stance on microplastics

We strictly oppose microplastics as they pose extremely harmful effects to the environment. Therefore, Cosphatec does not manufacture any products that contain microplastics. We do not see them as a necessity and replacements for them are available in all cases. With regard to liquid microplastics, our recommendations include our COSMOS-certified, vegan Xanthan Gums, which can thicken cosmetic formulations similar to the way a polymer does. For a pleasant, silicone-like feeling, our developers like to use our Cosphaderm Feel (INCI: Triheptanoin).

Our products aid in making plastic-free formulas attractive to the end consumer.