Even more exasperating was what his PhD student Mark Browne had discovered while shopping in a pharmacy. Browne pulls open the top drawer of a laboratory cabinet. Inside is a cornucopia of feminine beauty aids: shower massage creams, body scrubs, and hand cleaners. Several are by boutique labels: Neova Body Smoother, SkinCeuticals Body Polish, and DDF Strawberry Almond Body Polish. Others are international name brands: Neutrogena, Clearasil, Pond’s Fresh Start, even a tube of Colgate Icy Blast toothpaste. Some are available in the United States, others only in the United Kingdom. But all have one thing in common.
“Exfoliants: little granules that massage you as you bathe.” He selects a peach-colored tube of St. Ives Apricot Scrub; its label reads: 100% natural exfoliants. “This stuff is okay. The granules are actually chunks of ground-up jojoba seeds and walnut shells.” Other natural brands use grape seeds, apricot hulls, coarse sugar, or sea salt. “The rest of them,” he says, with a sweep of his hand, “have all gone to plastic.”
On each, listed among the ingredients are “micro-fine polyethylene granules,” or “polyethylene micro-spheres,” or “polyethylene beads.” Or just polyethylene.
“Can you believe it?” Richard Thompson demands of no one in particular, loud enough that faces bent over microscopes rise to look at him. “They’re selling plastic meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea creatures.”
On the Cosmetic Safety Database, see the 2,742 products listed with POLYETHYLENE.