Small plastic particles, often known as microbeads, have been used in cosmetic products thanks to their gentle cleansing effect for a significant length of time. They were seen to have a number of advantages; being lightweight, sure to remain stable in the overall formula of a skincare product and, above all, have a high skin tolerance level making them suitable for most skin types.
However, at NIVEA we understand that microbeads are problematic for the environment at the point of disposal. For this reason, NIVEA owners Beiersdorf decided back in 2013 to replace the small particles with another material by the end of 2015 in all its skincare ranges.
We are delighted to say that we have now achieved this target, replacing microbeads with alternative substances that are just as soft and gentle on the skin, but are more environmentally friendly too.
Microbeads are small plastic spheres (smaller than 5mm and bigger than 50µm) that are widely-considered problematic in respect to their presence in the world’s oceans. Most microplastics do not come from cosmetics and skincare products, but rather from a variety of sources, often as a result of the decomposition of larger plastic items which were not properly disposed of. As a result of UV-rays and erosion the plastic breaks down into many small pieces, which ultimately become miniscule.
Microbeads cannot be filtered-out by water treatment plants and the particles end up in the ocean - where they don't belong, of course!
As a responsible skincare manufacturer, Beiersdorf recognised the need to take action and sought-out more sustainable solutions.
At NIVEA, we pay close attention to both the quality and the long-term ecological impact of our products. That’s why we continuously analyse new findings in these areas, evaluate their significance and pro-actively develop new measures and standards based on them.
As of 2015, Beiersdorf products no longer contain microbeads. Dependent on the size and colour of microbeads in pre-existing product formulas, we chose to replace them with with microcellulose particles, a mixture of microcellulose particles and silica particles, or hardened castor oil. Cellulose is a biodegradable organic material, as it is also found in plant fibers. Silica is similar to the chemical composition of quartz sand. Hardened castor oil is a natural, biodegradable raw material, which has a hard, wax-like consistency.
These alternative particles are just as soft, gently-cleansing and skin-friendly as their predecessors. We have made a significant step in the direction of more environmentally friendly products, while keeping an eye on the high quality our consumers expect from NIVEA ranges.
This might make the issue sound like a simple matter of substitution, but unfortunately this isn’t quite the case. The new, friendlier particles have to be evenly distributed in the formula, so can’t consist of heavier material such as grains of sand which would sink and separate from the rest of the product’s ingredients. They also must have a high level of skin tolerance because, for example, the use of nut shell particles would cause a potentially-fatal danger to persons with a nut allergy.
Our Research & Development team is constantly working on ever-improving solutions to the issue of microplastics.
Although the phasing out of microbeads from all cosmetic products will have a positive impact on the environment, the percentage of microbeads which are from this source is relatively small compared to these other sources.
It’s important to keep in mind that sources such as fibres from synthetic clothing, which dissolve when washed, or smaller plastic particles from everyday consumer products are also sources of microplastics. The contribution of cosmetic products is relatively small compared to these other sources.