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Many people believe that microplastics in toothpaste are a thing of the past. The root of this misunderstanding comes from the fact that many toothpaste brands “voluntarily” phased out microbeads. The thing is: all microbeads are microplastic ingredients, but not all microplastic ingredients are microbeads. Let’s dig deeper!

In December of 2012, Unilever was the first multinational to announce the phasing out of plastic microbeads from their products worldwide. Other multinationals soon made similar statements. This “voluntary” action was a result of efforts of various campaigns and environmental organizations like ours, pushing multinationals to take accountability for their products. After continuous campaigning, we were proud to get 448 brands from 119 different manufacturers to promise to remove plastic microbeads from their products

Microbeads, however, are only the tip of the iceberg; they are a kind of microplastic ingredient. The term microbead refers to the visible particles of plastic smaller than 5mm, which are usually spherical and have specific functions such as scrubbing, peeling or exfoliating. These plastic beads, mostly made from polyethylene, were used in particular products like scrubs and toothpaste and are more or less phased out as we speak. 

The term ‘microplastic’ is not consistently defined but is typically considered to refer to small, usually made of a synthetic polymer of which there are several hundred different ones. Both microbeads and microplastics are under the size of 5mm. Microplastics are still widely used in all kinds of cosmetics and personal care products. They are very resistant to (bio)degradation and thus persists for a very long time in the environment. In cosmetics, microplastic refers to all types of plastic that are intentionally added to personal care & cosmetic products. There are also so-called sceptical microplastics for which there is not enough information available. Ongoing scientific research has to establish whether they should be recognized as microplastics or not. 

All the countries that took action against microplastics in the context of cosmetics and care products have only banned microbeads and not all plastic ingredients. So far, 15 countries have taken steps to ban microbeads from rinse-off products. That simply means that microplastics are still very ubiquitous in our care products.  

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