Plastic Microbeads in Scrubs

Three and a half years ago there was a plastic disaster in Hong Kong. During a typhoon, 6 shipping containers of plastic pellets were blown off a container ship into the ocean.  Dissatisfied with the government’s inaction, thousands of Hong Kong citizens took up the task of cleaning up the plastic pellets that washed up on the beaches.

In addition to accidents, the simple act of washing our faces can result in plastic going into the ocean.  The “scrub” in many brands of face and body scrub are actually made of plastic micro beads with a diameter 2 to 12 times the width of a human hair.  If plastic micro beads this small get into your eyes, they may cause infection. When they go down the drain, they cannot be filtered out by the sewage treatment plant because they are so tiny.  So billions end up in the ocean everyday and are often mistaken for food by marine life. The beads absorb toxins from the water,  the fish eat the beads, and we eat the fish. A terrific video by The Story of Stuff explains it.

If we do not want to eat plastic, we have to take the first step and stop using personal care products that contain micro beads. How can you tell if your facial or body scrub contains micro beads? Look at the list of ingredients, if you see any of these words: polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or polymathy methacrylate, then it contains plastic micro beads.

Excited to learn that an Amsterdam-based organisation called 「BEAT THE MICRO BEAD」 developed a mobile app which helps identify products containing micro beads,  I immediately downloaded it.

I walked in the two major chains of personal care shops and identified a few brands of facial scrub.  Some brands listed the ingredients on the packaging, while others are silent as to what is actually in their products.  I tried to scan these products with the app, but found that most of them are unknown to the app.  There is a report function in the app, so you can take photos of the front and back of the products and upload them.

Since the app does not seem to cover many of the micro beads products available in Hong Kong and does not have photos, we have set up a page on Go Green Hong Kong to help identify products that contain micro beads in Hong Kong.  We invite readers to join our effort – if you spot any products containing micro beads, please kindly let us know at

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