Small, plastic particles found in hygiene and cosmetic products have been wreaking havoc for the environment. Despite the immense attention that microbeads have garnered in American media in recent months, we don’t often hear about these plastic exfoliators in Asian products.
Some believe the Asian beauty product industry’s emphasis on skincare over cosmetics is the reason behind this.
Anthony Jung is an Australian beauty blogger and beauty consultant at Cosme Hut, the first Asian beauty and cosmetics boutique in Perth.
He said he believes Western products use microbeads due to a lack of emphasis on skincare over cosmetics, and microbeads are a cheap and accessible resource.
These small plastic particles commonly found in shampoos, soaps, toothpastes and facial cleansers are used as an exfoliator. Designed to be small enough to wash down the drain, they frequently slip through water treatment plants without being filtered out and end up back into the recycled water. These plastic bits end up in the water we drink, as well as the fish that we eat, according to the Washington Post.
“We consume water; we use water; it directly affects our life,” said Samantha Hogard, president of the Florida Water Environment Association. “If our water is polluted, we’re at the mercy of our government to regulate and clean our water because it’s such an important factor in our lives.”
In December 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act into effect, which prohibits the sale of products that include microbeads in their formula.
Most Western products choose ingredients that cost less overall, rather than sourcing locally produced, natural ingredients, according to Jung.
“Since it can’t make as much of a profit compared to industries in Japan or Korea for example, I feel like they need to use cheaper ingredients, or synthetically create ingredients to reduce cost,” Jung said. “At their own expenses however, they have created ingredients that are indeed harmful to everything and everyone.”
Asian cosmetics is a big industry that people have poured money into in order to create products that are better for their customers, as opposed to their Western product counterparts, according to Jung.
“The Western skincare world isn’t as big since a lot of people don’t realize how vital skincare truly is,” Jung said. “They focus more on makeup, thus neglecting their skincare products.”
According to skinVeau, another beauty blog, cosmetics make up the majority of beauty purchases in the West, while 89 percent of Korean women in Korea spend more money on skincare products than makeup.
“I think the difference is because using cosmetics at a young age in Asian countries is frowned upon, like how you can’t wear makeup to school, so they focus on making themselves pretty by being natural with skincare,” freshman biology major Mary Yang said. “But in western countries, children start using makeup at a younger age, so they are used to covering up their imperfections, because it is culturally acceptable to put on foundation and makeup.”
Although microbeads will eventually disappear from all shelves in the United States, Jung hopes that these plastic beads will continue to stay out of Asian products and that every country would prohibit the use of microbeads.
“I have only one wish: to see companies truly invest in their products; to create something that is ideal to everyone’s skin, but doesn’t hurt the environment in the same process,” Jung said. “We all have to remember that we only have one world, and the more we damage it, the more it damages us.”
Photo by Alexandria Ng.