Monday, June 23, 2008

Hidden Plastic in My Face Wash

All right guys. I admit, when it comes to all those face products, I'm kind of an idiot. For years, I washed my face with Noxema until a friend of mine told me I had to stop because I wasn't twelve. Since then, I switched to Neutrogena Cream Cleanser, and have been using that, and a moisturizer/SPF and that's it. No exfoliant, no toner (I just learnt what toner is, though, so I'm very proud), no foundation. I'm very no muss, no fuss.

Well, the other day, I was at the mall dealing with one of my many iBook issues, when I saw a Body Shop store. Aside from my face moisturizer which I tend to stock up on, I don't really buy much from there. But I seemed to remember the store as being somewhat environmentally responsible. I even remember being able to refill your bottles back in the nineties. (You can't anymore.) And at one point, they had had a cucumber face wash that I had used to wash my face for a couple months. I was in college at the time, so it had been too expensive to use on a daily basis, but I remembered liking it, and hell, I can afford a little more than Noxema now. So I went into the store to see whether they still carried it.

They didn't carry the cucumber face wash anymore, but the saleswoman recommended a Vitamin C face polish scrub thing. Now looking back, I'm not sure why I was so stupid, because I KNOW that you all have written about face wash. And yet, at that moment, everything I had read went flying out of my head. I couldn't remember what was bad and what was okay. I vaguely thought laurel sulfate was perhaps something to avoid, but I couldn't remember why or if I was confusing laurel sulfate with something else. (I wasn't.)

Anyway, the point is, I bought the stupid Vitamin E face polish scrub. "Because," I reasoned, "It's from The Body Shop. It MUST be better than Neutrogena. At least it's in a bottle made from 30% post-consumer plastic."

Reader, shoot me now. Because what I have to tell you is so embarrassing, I'm not sure I can stand to go on. But to keep you from making my mistakes, I'll continue.

So I started to use this damn scrub thing. And ... you guessed it, it irritated the hell out of my skin. "Crap," I thought. "This is NOT going to work." But at this point, I'd already bought the face scrub, and I NEVER just throw stuff away. So I kept using it, and hating it, and wondering if my skin was doomed. Finally, I started using a face wash sample Honda gave me, and my skin started to clear up, but I still felt compelled to use the face scrub a couple times a week since you know ... I didn't want to WASTE it.

And then, my friend DJ sent me an article about face scrub. Now you probably know this because you're not an Eco Dunce. But apparently, these face scrubs contain microplastic or polyethylene, and it's killing the sea life.

As soon as I read the article, I was panic stricken. HOW, HOW, had I not known about this? I mean, this is the kind of thing that should have been new to me 7 months ago! Not NOW. I read Fake Plastic Fish every damn day! How did I miss both this and this article she links to on her HOME PAGE?!

So, I went home, and sure enough, it contains polyethylene. My horrible face scrub that irritated my face is also killing sea life. Wow, isn't that awesome! Let's not discuss the irony that I gave up my beloved Neutrogena for this product because I assumed (stupidly and incorrectly) that it would be more eco-friendly than Neutrogena.

So I threw away the face polish. Then I fished it out of the trash, because I decided instead that I'm going to send it back to The Body Shop with a letter explaining why I'm sending it to them. Let's see how they defend the fracking polyethelene when they claim that one of their five values as a company is to protect the planet.

I'll let you know if I ever get a response (I'm not holding my breath.)

In the mean time, if anyone can recommend a good face wash, I'm in the market for something. Ideally a cream cleanser, but if it's not causing me to break out constantly while killing plankton, it will be a step up from my last face wash.


Burbanmom said...

I have super-duper sensitive white Irish skin -- with some nice rosacea to boot. I've found, for me, that the fragrances in the creams are all too irritating (and they're generally the most nasty chemicals anyhow). I use a Nutragena unscented face wash bar.

However, my goat soap lady swears that the goat's milk soap bars have cleared up her whole family's acne problems. I haven't switched yet because, like you, I'm too cheap to just toss my existing bars (they last FOREVER).

This is what works for me... but everybody's face is different!

Anonymous said...

I have been using baking soda. It has a very mildly abrasive without drying out the skin. Like burbanmom, I have skin that is very sensitive to... well, just about everything. Baking soda is ultra cheap and comes in box packaging. The only problem is that you can't store it in the shower, but my itty-bitty bathroom allows me to put it in on the sink counter (I seal it in a reusable storage container) and access it from the shower a scoop at a time. My skin hasn't looked this good for years. I follow up with some olive oil as a moisturizer.

pink dogwood said...

Arduous, don't be so hard on yourself.

It will interesting to hear all the comments to this post since I also always struggle with acne. I have been using umbrian clay treatment bar ( ) which seems to be helping, but it is very expensive and keeps breaking. I will definitely give baking soda a try. I do use olive oil as a moisturizer as well.

hmd said...

I was shocked when I found out mine had plastic too. I had just read "The World Without Us," an awesome book by Alan Weisman and he mentions it there. Crap! So I used the rest but now if I want a scrub, I use one of those bath puffs or a combo of sugar and baking soda. Works like a charm (but I have pretty tough skin).

J said...

Don't beat yourself up too much, we all make mistakes, and we all still have so much to learn.

I have to admit, this is the first I've ever heard of any of this, and I like to consider myself 'green'. I have never worn make up or used and facial products to speak of. For me, it's just sunscreen, I would have never thought plastic would show up in facewash!

Good idea sending a letter rather than throwing it away, at the very least you tried. I hope you get a good response.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I have real oily combination skin that tends to break out easily, so believe me when I say I've, for the last 20 years, used the most complicated regimen of washing and moisturizing.

Well, recently (okay, it's been several months) I thought, what the heck, and tried using soap. Just plain old bar soap. Dr. Bronner's, I believe. And I waited, expecting my face to implode. And it never did. So, now I just use homemade bar soap on my face.

I think the trick is to use a bar soap that is made with only lye, oils, water, maybe some goat milk and not much else.

Most of the commercial bar soaps are petroleum based and are considered detergents rather than soap. Which is why they do a number on your skin.

Anonymous said...

I have had similar experiences myself! And it is hard to pass up those yummy looking items. I mean some of them smell so good you think you could eat them! That is until you figure out what the ingredients are (even then, they are sooo tempting)!

I have been experimenting with my own recipes for skin care but you should check out The Environmental Working Groups cosmetics website ( have compiled an amazing list of products that include every type of personal care item. The items are rated based on their hazard levels with 0 being the safest. You can type in the products you are currently using or thinking about using to see how they rate or just search by category to find something you are comfortable with! I really like the site and have used it numerous times! Good luck!

Katy said...

I'm interested in reading all of these responses. I have been battling my skin since purperty. I tend to break out easily and I live in a really humide climet where it feels like you are litteraly wearing the air so I have to scrub daily. After I ran out of the last of my store bought face wash a few weeks ago, I just started washing my face with Dr. Bonner's soap with tea tree oil. My face looks pretty good. I'm not going to say that Its miracualously cleared up or anything, but it looks better and it feels great.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak from personal experience, since my facewashing routine is soap and water once every, oh, six months or so... (Don't hate me!)

But if you really want something for acne or other skin problems, take a look at this:

Disclaimer: I work for these guys!

P.S. I agree with the commenters who say don't be so hard on yourself. You innocently walked into the lair of the devil (the mall) and everyone who enters is helpless to fight off those "buy something now" fumes that I'm convinced they pump through the vents in those places. I think it's GREAT that you sent the stuff back and I bet you WILL get a response back. Hope you will share with your readers when that happens!

maitrar said...

I too have very sensitive face skin. I used to use special all-natural facewashes and moisturizers, but since moving to the Netherlands, could not find the brands I was used to, and couldn't read the list of ingredients in Dutch on the bottles here! So I gave up and just started washing my face with nothing but plain water, which I splash on morning and evening. My skin looks better than it ever has.

Nice blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I have very sensitive combination skin. After developing some kind of senstivity to the Neutrogena I had used for years and another company discontinuing a product I had been using, I too switched to plain water for cleaning my face and it's worked wonderfully, followed by moisturizer or sunscreen if appropriate. My mom whose skin is more durable than mine uses cornmeal as a scrub and swears by it.

Anonymous said...

i've often wondered about the body shop... but the smell of their lotions and potions just doesn't seem natural enough for me, so i've never been persuaded to buy anything there.

i've quite recently switched to natural and organic products... and the change has been unbelievable. i no longer have irritated skin, and it never has that horrible taut feeling one gets with chemical-laden products.

the stuff i use now is grown and produced locally (all natural, and mostly organic ingredients) here in south africa, so perhaps not of much use to you... though they may export some products. it's called victorian garden and they have everything from facewashes to foot balms to spritzers. another reason i like them so much is that they're also easily affordable for the not so affluent. hope you find something soon!

Natalie said...

We all have our Eco Dunce moments. And I had no idea about plastic in face scrubs! Good info to spread around!

I have that dry/oily/sensitive prone-to-disaster skin. I have used Neutrogena's Cream Cleanser in the morning and their Foaming Wash at night for years. I recently switched (for packaging reasons) to Burt's Bees Deep Cleansing Cream at night. I've also tried their Peach and Willowbark Deep Pore Scrub with nice results, although I don't use it often.

Burt's Deep Cleansing is a "stronger" wash than Neutrogena's Cream Cleanser, but it's "soft" enough to be comparable. Anyway, it seems to be working for me without issue.

Oh, and I did try washing for a while with Dr. Bronner's bar soap - disastrous results!! It sounds like there are plenty of "non-product" facial products to try, though.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I will have to check my own facial scrub as soon as I get home now! It's got ground apricot kernels in it but I'll have to check it for plastics as well.

I wash my face with shampoo in the shower, and scrub once every couple of weeks or so... luckily my skin is not too fussy about these things.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

For a facial scrub I use a tablespoon of cornmeal mixed up with about the same amount of honey. Smear it on, sit around, wash it off. Messy but effective. I sometimes precede this with a steam bath over a pot of just-off-the-boil water with maybe chamomile or whatever strikes my fancy steeped in it.

Then there's a facial mask of dry oatmeal mixed with yogurt. I guess if you wanted a scrub effect you could grind up the oatmeal, mix with yogurt, and scrub with it.

Loofahs are also good.

With this home-made stuff you skip the packaging, see?

Allison said...

Wow, this is great info. Thanks for sharing. That is pretty unbelievable that they use that junk in their products!

Regarding making an impact with Body Shop, you are right to send it back to the company with a letter vs. returning it to the retail store. I recommend copying the president's office and the director of marketing on your letter. When I worked for a big company, if we got a copy of a letter filtered down from the president's office, a fire was lit under our behinds.

ruchi said...


Burbs, maybe I'll check out the Neutrogena unscented face wash bar. At least that would eliminate the plastic packaging of the cream cleanser.

Artbystrongheart, hmmm, baking soda seems like it might irritate my skin, but it's worth a shot. I'll have to think about it. Does it work as an exfoliant?

PD, clay sounds amazing! But WOW! $38! That is pretty pricy!

Heather, yeah it sounds like for me, the baking soda might be good as a once a week exfoliant but not an every day kind of thing for me.

Jam, yeah I'm wondering if just regular soap would be fine if it didn't contain laurel sulfate and all those fragrances. Something to think about.

Jennifer, thanks, I hope I get a response as well.

Crunch, good to know. I use Dr Bronner's bar soap for the rest of my body. Maybe I'll try it out one day on my face and see what happens.

Bugs and Brooms, thanks for the website rec.

Katy, thanks for the Dr Bronner's rec. That will definitely be easy for me to try!

Sue, thanks for the recommendation. That stuff looks pretty good. And so don't hate you. I used to have much hardier skin, so I hear you. It just got much more sensitive recently.

Rachel & Susan, yeah it's amazing how just water is sometimes the answer. I'll have to think on that.

Mothercityliving, yeah, trust me, The Body Shop is so not natural. Maybe they used to be when they were a tiny little chain 15 years ago. But now? Not so much.

Natalie, oooh, that's fantastic that Burt's Bees has a similar cream cleanser! I'll have to see if I can find that at the drug store. That seems like a pretty safe switch.

Cae, interesting. I've never heard of washing your face with shampoo. I am not going to do that because I am using some leftover shampoo that claims to be hair thickening (I didn't buy it) and the last thing I need is my face getting all hairy!! To clarify, not all facial scrubs have plastic (for example Burt's Bees does not), but most commercial scrubs do have plastic in them, so do check the ingredients label.

ruchi said...

Leila, yum! I'd be tempted to eat my face mask! You are quite right though. The homemade stuff means less packaging, and you dictate the ingredients. Thanks!

Allison, thanks for the info. I'll cc the president of the company as well.

Jennifer said...

Everyone's face IS differnent. I never wash my face with anything except warm water... anything else dries it out too much. You could try that... but I think you have to do it for at least a couple weeks at the start to let your face find it's natural balance.

Anonymous said...

Baking soda is a mild exfoliant for me - it has never irritated my skin (but everyone is different) My skin tends to be on the oily side, and my acne has pretty much disappeared since I started using it. Go figure.

EcoBurban said...

hmmmm, based on all this maybe my weird adult pimps that have suddenly shown up on my chin will go away with the goat milk bar soap. I have been trying to figure out what to buy, so I am glad to see this post!!

Anonymous said...

Well slap me and call me an eco dunce. I had NO idea that plastic beads were in exfoliant. Holy mother of pearl. I used to be a big neutrogena fan because a dermatologist recommended them but their daily sun screen is loaded with PABA & I'm not 100% sure but I think they test on animals. Not cool.

ruchi said...

Jennifer, yeah, I'm not sure I'm just a water girl, though that would be AWESOME. But hell, I'll try anything out for a bit!

Artbystrongheart, eeeenteresting. Thanks!

EBM, yeah everyone's suggestions have been awesome! I'm glad other people are getting use out of these super cool suggestions as well.

SDG, wow I have to say, perversely it makes me feel better that Doctor Label Queen herself didn't know about the plastic in exfoliants. Ah well, we're still learning, right?

Chile said...

Plain ol' soap when I shower (twice/week). A washcloth dampened with just water or water with baking soda dissolved in it othertimes. I'm told I have a nice complexion, but other factors may be contributing to this: I use NO make-up and haven't for decades so I'm not constantly putting stuff on it that has to be removed. And I (usually) eat a very healthy diet.

Good luck in your search!

Anonymous said...

Funny how everyone wants to comment on this post! I swipe with my washcloth (regular soap) when I'm in the shower. I'm still using up soap - I haven't bought any in a couple of years. Then I use some moisturizer/sunscreen, mostly because it feels nice.

Here's what I've noticed: stress, illness, products (esp. fragrance) = bad skin. Exercise (sweating!), water, good cheer = normal to good skin. Maybe I'm just lucky. But I think they come up with these products to irritate your skin and give you a complex about it. Then you think you have to keep using the product or your skin will get worse, you're using the product wrong, or you just haven't found the right one. So you keep buying and you keep buying in.


Rachel said...

I had been using dr. hauschka's cleansing cream for the last few years and loved it. But like most of the folks above I've switched to bar soap to reduce packaging and carbon cost (I believe dr. H products are made in Germany).

I might treat myself to a tube for my birthday though.

amy.leblanc said...

i use dr. bronner's liquid tea tree soap, but to be honest no cleaner + facial treatment ever worked to clear up my acne. the only thing that worked was getting regular glycolic acid peels - i get one every 4-6 weeks and finally my skin is clear. it seems expensive at first, but i've basically stopped using all products except for sunscreen, so i've saved a ton on things like expensive soaps and acne treatments, and since i no longer buy anything except dr. bronners, which i only have to buy like once every 6 months cuz i buy the huge liquid soap container (which is recyclable), in the end not only does it work but i feel it's "greener" to get the derm treatments than try to manage my skin with products.

back OT though - the body shop is one of the hugest greenwashing companies out there, so kudos to you for writing the letter and calling them out on it. they suck.

Sam said...

Well I have a suggestion too!

I use soap and water everyday (sometimes no soap on face). The soap is a mild one that contains honey.

I've used two ways to cleanse my facial skin: steam and a face mask made with chickpea flour/honey/milk. the chickpea mask takes out all the dead skin and makes my face smooth.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Cae, interesting. I've never heard of washing your face with shampoo.

I'm just lazy...

Anonymous said...

Isn't the Body Shop, like everything else that starts out small and crunchy, owned by a big evil corporation now? Wait, let me check. Ah, yes. The Body Shop is owned by L'Oréal now. And is L'Oreal on my list of products containing plastic microbeads? Wait, let me check again. Yep. This one: L'Oreal Pure Zone Pore Unclogging Scrub Cleanser.

So anyway, please do let us know if/when they respond to your letter.

Personally, my secret skin care tip is... gasp... I don't wash my face at all! I think it gets clean from the water and steam in the shower. But I don't scrub it or rub anything on it at all. And I have great skin. That said, I also rarely wear makeup (like maybe once a month, if that) so that could be another reason. I've had the same tube of clay mask for about 5 years now. Think I should just get rid of it? I can't even remember the last time I put any on my face.

ruchi said...

Chile, thanks for the suggestions!

Megan, the washcloth is a good idea. If I'm not lathering soap on my skin, I think it will be less irritated. You are right about it being a vicious cycle. That's why I try to stay low maintenance as much as possible.

Green Grrl, thanks for the recommendation.

Amy, yeah they kind of do suck. It's just so bizarre to me because I've known this company for so long and I didn't realize how much they've deteriorated in terms of their eco-values.

Beany, that chickpea mask seems awesome!

CAE, heh, I'm the queen of laziness. And if it works, why not!

Beth, I'm really starting to think that we just need to wash our faces less! I mean it's not like we're chimney sweeps. And washing my face less often would mean I could afford a nicer face wash on the days I do wash. So we'll see. Plenty to think about!

Melissa said...

If you really want a scrub, I believe that the st. ives apricot scrub (which is cheap too) has no plastic - not sure about other ingredients though. I personally just use the cetaphyl (sp?) cleanser. It is simple and works pretty well.

ruchi said...

Melissa, thanks. I don't think the scrub thing is working for me though. I think I'm going to try and find a cream cleanser and maybe wash my face less.

Anonymous said...

I have a Neem based herbal face wash, it's superb.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit after going through many "scrubs" I went back to a terry wash cloth and have been just as happy with the result.

I can't wait for the day when we don't have to question what's in a bottle.

Buy Anabolic Steroids said...

But Neutrogena is not very safe also!

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