Plastic scrub beads

Our personal care brands help people to achieve healthy-looking skin. Exfoliation – the removal of dead skin cells through gentle scrubbing – is key to this. Several ingredients can act as a mild abrasive to aid exfoliation, including plastic scrub beads.

Mangroves in a pristine marine environment in Belize

“There have been notable success stories to date – Unilever paved the way by promising to phase out all microbeads by 2015.”

Tanya Cox, Marine Plastics Officer, Fauna & Flora International. Source: Personal Care Products Council

We stopped using plastic scrub beads in 2014 in response to concerns about the build-up of microplastics in oceans and lakes. We had formerly used them in some of our exfoliating products. We now use alternative exfoliating ingredients, enabling people to feel confident that the Unilever face and body washes they use do not contribute to the accumulation of microplastics in the world’s oceans.

Your questions answered

What alternatives are there to plastic scrub beads?

We now use alternative exfoliating ingredients such as apricot kernels, cornmeal, ground pumice, silica and walnut shells.

Where do microplastics in the oceans come from?

Microplastics come from a variety of sources, including the breakdown of larger plastic materials in the water, the shedding of synthetic fibres from textiles during domestic clothes washing, and from small plastic beads used in a range of consumer and industrial products. The contribution of personal care products to microplastics’ levels is thought to be very small.

Why did Unilever use plastic scrub beads in the past?

Plastic scrub beads were previously contained in a limited number of personal care products, such as facial cleansers, soaps, shower gels and body washes. We used them because they can gently unblock pores and remove dead cells from the skin’s surface. Many people enjoyed the invigorating sensation provided by the beads, which were typically made from polyethylene.

Are plastic scrub beads safe?

Safety assessments have concluded that polyethylene – the plastic formerly used in our scrub beads – is safe for people, and there is no observed effect at concentrations typically encountered in the environment.

Back to top