Does your toothpaste contain microplastics?

I happened to watch a morning television show the other day where there was talk about micro-plastics in cosmetic products and its effect on the environment. I realised that while many people are aware of the problem of marine litter and the amounts of plastic hovering around in our oceans, not many of us know what microplastics is.

Tiny plastic particles or the so-called microplastics are used in many products, including in cosmetics. They can be found in body scrubs, sun lotions, hair products, lipsticks, toothpastes and many other goods. For example, if the product is glittering, you can be sure it contains some microplastic particles.

The plastic substance used in cosmetic products is mostly polyethylene – the main plastic ingredient also used to produce plastic bags and grocery packaging. It is not harmful for human health per se, but the problem starts once we wash it off our skin. This way microplastics find their way to the water treatment plants which currently are not capable of catching these small particles. Eventually they end up in the marine environment.

There microplastics are eaten by planktons and fries, causing their premature death, inability to reach adulthood and procreate. Also, by being consumed by sea creatures and fish, microplastics enter the food chain and can end up on our table, which pose another risk. Polyethylene particles have a special surface where other harmful substances and items such as heavy metals and toxins can adhere to. With all the additional harmful substances carried with it, microplastics at this point has become a threat to human health.

Even though cosmetic products are not a main source where microplastics can be found, it is the industry where positive steps against their use are being taken. The threat that micropastics pose to the marine environment has been acknowledged since the beginning of this century and now many countries, especially France and the Nordic countries are moving towards banning it as an ingredient in cosmetics.

What we as consumers can do in order to prevent microplastics from ending up in the marine environment, is to choose products free from microplastic particles. So, in order to do your bit towards a sustainable environment and future, check what is written on your toothpaste tube and other products in your cosmetic bag!

Evelin Piirsalu


Photo: Microplastics in tootphaste. Source: Flickr

Evelin Piirsalu is a Senior Researcher at SEI Tallinn Environmental Management programme. Evelin has more than 10 years’ experience in sustainable production and consumption related issues and projects (GPP, product and policy assessments, etc.). She has a Ph.D. in Human Geography, and a M.Sc. in Environmental Science, both from Lund University, Sweden. Her recent work is related to marine environment, more specifically to valuation of marine ecosystem services. In the last couple of years she has also been involved with waste related studies. Evelin Piirsalu has also a broad project management experience.