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The world is waking up to the issue of microplastic beads in cosmetic and personal care products. Authorities around the globe are introducing legislation to phase out their use and manufacturers need to stay informed to remain compliant.

Microbeads in face

The approach to microbeads is not consistent around the world. While the US Federal authority began restrictions on their use in July 20171, individual states have also introduced legislation. For example, Illinois, the first state to act, has introduced a ban on the sale and manufacture of products containing microbeads, which will be phased in from 2018. California, however, has announced a total ban on the sale and promotion of personal care products containing microbeads, which will come into effect on January 1, 20202.

In Europe, the approach is even more varied. In 2015, a group of countries including Austria, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Sweden issued a joint statement calling on the European Union (EU) to introduce a ban3, a call that was echoed by the Danish Minister of Environment and Food in May 20164. Since then, Sweden has introduced its own ban on microbeads in rinse-off products, which will begin on January 1, 20185. Similarly, in July 2017, the United Kingdom informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it wished to prohibit the sale and manufacture of products contain microbeads. This ban is expected to be introduced in two stages, starting on January 1, 20186.

Elsewhere, Canada has introduced a ban on microbeads in toiletries that comes into effect in 20187 and New Zealand has notified the WTO of prohibitions that could come into effect in 20188. Australia has taken a different approach and in December 2015 announced the voluntary removal of microbeads from personal care products9 but since then, Ministers have stated that, should the voluntary phase out not work, they will introduce a legal ban in 201710. Taiwan’s ban on the manufacture and import of products contain microbeads comes into effect on January 1, 2018, with the ban on their sale becoming effective on July 1, 201811. Taiwan is currently the only country where a draft method for qualitative screening of microbeads has also been published.

Why are Microbeads a Problem?

In 2015, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) published “Plastic in Cosmetics: Are we polluting the environment through our personal care?” This report signaled concerns relating to the use of microbeads in cosmetic and personal care products.

Firstly, due to their size, microbeads they are not recycled and are simply poured down the drain. They are normally made from nondegradable polymers and, because it takes hundreds of years for them to degrade via oxidative or photodegradation routes, will remain in our environments for a very long time.

Secondly, the report notes the ‘ubiquity’ of microbeads being found in our marine environments. Their size means that, once they have entered the ocean, they are quickly distributed around the globe. Marine creatures ingest them, thinking they are food, and this creates problems of toxicity in our food chains. As the toxins progress along the food chain they become more concentrated, leading to potential threats to human health.

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are plastic spheres used in personal care products for several purposes, including the delivery of active ingredients, film formation, exfoliation and viscosity regulation. They range in size and can be as small as 1 µm. Most of the legislation being introduced around the world covers a size up to and including 5mm.

According to a Norwegian Environment Agency report from 2014, the most common polymers used for the manufacturer of microbeads are polyethylene, poly(methylmethacrylate), polytetrafluoroethylene, polypropylene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate12.

What next?

Manufacturers of cosmetic and personal care products need to be aware of the different regulations that are being introduced around the world (see Table 1). From 2018, an increasing number of territories will have specific legislation in place restricting the use of microbeads and it must be assumed this trend will continue as further research into the long-term effects of microbeads in the environment are published.

Manufacturers must also look for viable alternatives to microplastic beads. The UNEP report states that replacing nondegradable polymers with biodegradable plastics such as Polylactic acid (PLA) is not advisable as PLAs only degrade when subjected to high temperatures in industrial settings.

Table 1. Global Overview of Current Global Microbead Legislation

Territory Current Status
United States Federal Law – H.R.1321 – Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 signed on December 28, 2015


  • Ban on manufacturing rinse-off products containing plastic microbeads – July 1, 2017
  • Ban on introduction or delivery of rinse-off products containing plastic microbeads – July 1, 2018

Non-prescription drugs:

  • Ban on manufacturing rinse-off products containing plastic microbeads – July 1, 2018
  • Ban on introduction or delivery of rinse-off products containing plastic microbeads – July 1, 2019
Canada Regulation – SOR/2017-111 Microbeads in Toiletries Regulations


  • Ban on manufacturing and importation of toiletries containing microbeads – January 1, 2018
  • Ban on the sale of toiletries containing microbeads – July 1, 2018

Natural health products and/or non-prescription drugs:

  • Ban on manufacturing and importation of toiletries containing microbeads – July 1, 2018
  • Ban on the sale of toiletries containing microbeads – July 1, 2019
New Zealand WTO notified of draft regulation
Australia Voluntary removal
ASEAN ASEAN Cosmetic Association recommends removal
Taiwan WTO notified of draft regulation, including draft method
Europe Cosmetics Europe recommends removal

Other highlights:

  • France – national law (decree No2017-291)
  • United Kingdom – WTO notified of draft regulation

SGS Solutions: Cosmetic & Personal Care Services

SGS provides testing, inspection, auditing and consulting services to manufacturers, distributors and importers of personal care products. Our state-of-the-art laboratories offer custom-made solutions for chemical, biophysical, microbiological, stability and biological aspects, and can support manufacturers by making sure new products comply with regulatory requirements.

Learn more about SGS’s Cosmetics & Personal Care Testing Services.

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To learn more, join us at Cosmoprof Hong Kong 2017, November 15-17. Our experts will be available throughout the exhibition on Booth 1E – F4J (Pavilion France).

For more information contact:

Queenie TSE
Consumer and Retail
Cosmetics, Personal Care and Household (CPCH)
Senior Technical Service Executive
t: +852 2765 3672 (ext 1672)


1 New Federal Ban on Microbeads Signed
2 Bill Text - AB-888 Waste management: plastic microbeads.
3 Council of the European Union
4 Esben Lunde Larsen opfordrer EU til forbud mod mikroplast i kosmetiske produkter
5 Förslag till nationellt förbud mot mikrokorn av plast i kosmetiska produkter
6 The Environmental Protection (Microbeads) (England) Regulations 2017
7 Canada Bans Microbeads in Toiletries
8 Managing microbeads in personal care products: Consultation document
9 Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Government
10 Federal Government strengthens efforts to tackle plastic waste
11 Environmental Protection Administration, Taiwan
12 Microbeads – A Science Summary