Exfoliating without microbeads

14 May
Plastic microbeads in your facial wash go straight down the drain and into the water system.

Plastic microbeads in your facial wash go straight down the drain and into the water system.

I often talk to my clients about using exfoliants to remove the dull dead skin cells that sit on the surface of the skin to keep it soft, supple, and youthful. Exfoliated skin feels better, looks polished, and takes age off a guy’s face. It’s also a great pre-shave step which softens men’s whiskers and lets the razor glide right over. Once guys are on the bandwagon, there’s no turning back.

However, there are massive environmental concerns with some commercial exfoliant products that contain microbeads – tiny plastic beads that are so small that they slip through the water treatment process and end up, at least in Ontario, in the Great Lakes. Tiny bits of plastic in water systems can wreak havoc on our marine environment and ultimately, us. Environmental Defence says that microbeads “are being eaten by fish and birds, which can cause digestive blockages, dehydration, and even death from starvation thanks to stomachs full of plastic. The plastics absorb dangerous toxics that can harm wildlife when they mistake the colourful beads for food”. Since we get much of our drinking water from the Great Lakes, I’ve read that these beads can end up in our drinking water and beverages made with water (i.e. beer!).

It’s an issue that is gaining ground. In March of this year, Ontario MPP, Marie-France Lalonde, introduced a private member’s bill to ban the manufacture and use of microbeads. South of the border, Illinois has passed a state-wide ban on microbeads, and New Jersey, Colorado, and Wisconsin are in the process of banning them too. Back in 2012, The Guardian discussed the global effects of microbeads in the oceans and said that “the [beauty] industry needs a reminder that an ecosystem driven to the edge will not be productive”. Happily, CBC reports that “L’Oreal, the Body Shop and Johnson & Johnson all committed to phasing out plastic microbeads by 2015, and Proctor & Gamble said it would do so by 2017.” This is wonderful news on many levels.

Natural alternatives

We don’t need plastic beads to keep our skin smooth – there are lots of natural alternatives. For instance, I recommend a pre-shave facial cleanser from Bread & Butter men’s skincare line which uses biodegradable rice flour granules as the exfoliating agent.

A friend who sees a naturopath uses plain old baking soda mixed with water to make a paste and uses that on his face to exfoliate his skin. He uses this very inexpensive and environmentally friendly exfoliant once a week; his skin looks clean and polished and he says it feels great.

Some people will turn to drug store exfoliant products that contain things like broken nut shells or fruit pits. Natural, yes, but these are somewhat harsh on the skin because the pieces of shell or pit are not rounded, and pointy bits of hard shell rolled over the face can damage the skin. Better alternatives are found at neighbourhood health stores that carry different exfoliant products, or check the multitude of online suggestions for natural facial scrubs.

For guys who want to take it a step further and give their whole bodies a good exfoliation, Janet Perry, a Certified Holistic Nutritionist™ in Calgary, offers her own recipe for an inexpensive DIY sea salt body scrub for the shower (not to be used on the face):

1/2 cup good quality oil such as almond, jojoba, avacado, olive, or grapeseed

1 cup sea salt (if your skin is sensitive, substitute sugar for salt)

5 – 15 drops of good quality (i.e. organic, therapeutic grade) essential oils like lemon, lavender, peppermint, or rosemary oil

1.  Put the sea salt (or sugar) in a glass bowl.
2.  Pour in the oil and mix with a wooden spoon.  The texture should be moist enough to hold together; if the mixture is too oily, add more sea salt.
3.  Add 5 – 15 drops of your favourite essential oil, and combine well.
4.  Transfer to a sterilized glass jar and store in a cool, dry place.

Also check out exfoliating gloves and towels from places like the Body Shop that you can soap up and use like you would a wash cloth. Feels great but be gentle exfoliating around your privates, gents.

It’s not much of a sacrifice to make a change from plastic microbeads in commercial facial exfoliants (and toothpaste and body wash products); you’ll be more natural, find more money in your pocket, and you won’t add to the water pollution problem that currently faces us.

Click here to send a letter of support for Ms. Lalonde’s bill to Glen Murray, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and make the push for banning microbeads stronger with your voice.

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