As the beauty industry and consumers move toward a greener and more sustainable future, manufacturers and ingredient suppliers have an obligation to help consumers understand the ingredients that are used in their products. Consumers are searching for cleaner products and reading ingredient labels without full knowledge of the nomenclature. This can lead to confusion, rather than clarity. We'd like to take a minute to answer your questions...
No. While all plastics are made up of polymers, not all polymers end up as plastics.
When they are used in personal care, beauty and cosmetic products, polymers are the building blocks for some key ingredients. In these products polymers can end up in many physical forms, including liquids and gels. For example, some polymers are hygroscopic, which means they swell in water. When used in cosmetics and beauty products, this type of polymer acts a binder that holds the ingredients together. They can end up as thickeners for shampoos, conditioners and lotions so that they don’t flow out of the bottle all at once, like a liquid would. Watch this video to learn more. Because the polymers used in personal care, beauty and cosmetic products typically are in gel or liquid form, they are not microplastics.
are generally considered to be any type of tiny, solid plastic particle – usually defined as being 5 millimeters or less in size. They come from all kinds of sources, and if they are not caught by wastewater treatment plants, they could be ingested by marine life.
Those funny names that appear on the labels of personal care products, names like . They are commonly referred to as the . The end use and physical form of an ingredient is not a factor in assigning an INCI name. In fact, the same INCI name will apply to an ingredient regardless of whether it ends up being used in liquid, gel or solid format in a personal care product. In other words, and , are assigned their names according to the .
Some groups have tried to use INCI names to identify personal care products that contain microplastics. They make the wrong assumption that all ingredients with the term "poly" in the INCI name means microplastic. : is the polymer being used in the product as a liquid, a gel or a solid? Without knowing the answer to that question, INCI names on a product label will not tell you whether the product contains microplastics or not. .
The Committee that assigns INCI names to ingredients has acknowledged this confusion. In August 2019, . As the INCI committee states: "The assumption that all polymers are microplastics is inaccurate and misleading...the single most distinguishing feature is the fact that a microplastic material is a solid particle. This characteristic cannot be identified or implied simply by reading the ingredient's INCI name and drawing the inference that the term 'poly' means microplastic."
There was a time when it was popular to add small solid plastic particles called “microbeads” to beauty and cosmetic products for decoration or exfoliation. Due to environmental concerns about what happens to microbeads after they are washed down the drain, including the United States, many years ago. Because of these bans, microbeads have been replaced with other ingredients.