Characterisation, quantity and sorptive properties of microplastics extracted from cosmetics

Imogen E. Napper, Adil Bakir, Steven J. Rowland, Richard C. Thompson

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    Cosmetic products, such as facial scrubs, have been identified as potentially important primary sources of microplastics to the marine environment. This study characterises, quantifies and then investigates the sorptive properties of plastic microbeads that are used as exfoliants in cosmetics. Polyethylene microbeads were extracted from several products, and shown to have a wide size range (mean diameters between 164 and 327 μm). We estimated that between 4594 and 94,500 microbeads could be released in a single use. To examine the potential for microbeads to accumulate and transport chemicals they were exposed to a binary mixture of 3H-phenanthrene and 14C-DDT in seawater. The potential for transport of sorbed chemicals by microbeads was broadly similar to that of polythene (PE) particles used in previous sorption studies. In conclusion, cosmetic exfoliants are a potentially important, yet preventable source of microplastic contamination in the marine environment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)178-185
    JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
    Issue number1-2
    Early online date30 Jul 2015
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2015


    • Microplastic
    • Exfoliating microbeads
    • Polyethylene
    • Ocean pollution
    • Contaminant


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