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Microplastics in the cosmetics industry

Microplastics in the cosmetics industry: global regulatory initiatives

The accumulation of plastic waste in the environment has been increasing rapidly in recent decades and is one of the issues of greatest concern to the scientific community and the general public. Environmental plastic waste varies in size, with particles smaller than or equal to 5 mm called microplastics.

Their presence in the environment can result from the breakdown of larger plastic fragments or from a primary source, such as microbeads included as ingredients in cosmetic and personal care products (PCCPs).

Microbeads are used as cleaning or exfoliating agents in a variety of cosmetic and personal care products such as shower gel, toothpaste, nail polish, eye shadow and many others. When the microbeads are rinsed off, they go directly down the drain and out into the environment.

Microperlas en la industria cosmética

The current global regulatory situation

The release of intentionally added microplastics in cosmetics into the environment is most effectively prevented by banning them. To this end, the USA, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan and Thailand, as well as some EU Member States (France, Italy and Sweden) have already implemented regulations banning microplastics in rinse-off products.

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If adopted, the concentration of microplastics in a mixture including cosmetic products, placed on the EU market must not exceed 0.01% w/w, taking into account the following considerations:

  • Non-biodegradable synthetic polymers shall be considered as microplastics.
  • Only solid polymers will be considered as microplastics; liquids, gases and those with a solubility greater than 2 g/L shall be outside the scope of the definition of microplastics.
  • Individual molecules are not particles and shall not be considered as microplastics
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The European Commission is currently preparing draft legislation that is expected to be adopted by the end of 2022. If adopted, it would be the most comprehensive ban on a group of chemicals so far under REACH and would affect the cosmetics industry mainly through microplastics with abrasive properties for exfoliants, glosses and encapsulated fragrances. Excluded from this restriction would be natural polymer particles, biodegradable polymers or polymers that are not in the form of microplastics at the time of use.

*Article of Seila Leiras Fernández | Technical & regulatory affairs manager, Sigillum Knowledge Solutions


1. UK Parliament. 2017. Microbeads and microplastics in cosmetic and personal care products. Hirst D. and Bennett O. Briefing paper No. 7510. House of Commons Library, UK Parliament.
2. Bashir, S. M., Kimiko, S., Mak, C.-W., Fang, J. K.-H., & Gonçalves, D. (2021). Personal Care and Cosmetic Products as a Potential Source of Environmental Contamination by Microplastics in a Densely Populated Asian City. Frontiers in Marine Science. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fmars.2021.683482
3. Guerranti, C., Martellini, T., Perra, G., Scopetani, C., & Cincinelli, A. (2019). Microplastics in cosmetics: Environmental issues and needs for global bans. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 68, 75–79.
4. Presence of microplastics and nanoplastics in food, with particular focus on seafood. (2016) EFSA Journal, 14(6).
5. ECHA Q&A diciembre 2020 (https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/28801697/qa_intentionally_added_microplastics_restriction_en.pdf/5f3caa33-c51f-869e-81c8-7e1852a4171c)
6. Annex XV Restriction Report (https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/05bd96e3-b969-0a7c-c6d0-441182893720)
7. Final ECHA Risk Assessment Committee and ECHA Socio-Economic Analysis Committee Opinion (https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/a513b793-dd84-d83a-9c06-e7a11580f366)
8. ECHA Registry of Restriction Intentions Until Outcome (https://echa.europa.eu/registry-of-restriction-intentions/-/dislist/details/0b0236e18244cd73)

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