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Plastics in cosmetic products

In the media and in the expert public there have been increasingly reports about the rising contamination of oceans by plastics and plastic particles (so-called microplastics). In this connection it is assumed that cosmetic products are a relevant source for the discharge of plastics particles in waters.

These reports often do not make a clear distinction between plastics in dissolved form and solid plastics particles.

Solid plastics particles differ from liquid plastics in terms of both size and shape as well as their physiochemical properties. Consequently, a generalisation, which applies equally to the two fields, is not justified. Solid particles are only contained in some cosmetic products. They are, for instance, used in some products for body or face cleansing, if the product is to have a special exfoliating effect, in skin cleansing products to remove strong skin soiling in the industrial field or in some special toothpastes.

Dissolved plastics take over important functions e.g. in hairstyling and make-up products. Without these polymer compounds effective heat protection in hairstyling or a good covering up effect of make-ups would not be possible. These substances have nothing to do with plastics particles and are dissolved and removed when washed out or when the make-up is taken off. According to the current state of science, they do not contribute to the pollution of the seas by solid plastics particles.

To the knowledge of IKW the share of plastics particles from cosmetic products in waters is very low compared to the total discharge of plastics. New scientific studies prove that their share in the total discharge in the North Sea amounts to between 0.1 and 1.5% compared to other plastics materials involved. Microplastics particles from cosmetic products which get into waste water are almost completely filtered out in the waste water treatment plants. The cosmetics industry is highly interested in further improving the environmental sustainability of its products. We collect and process the corresponding information and are, therefore, in ongoing talks to the environmental protection authorities.

The replacement of plastics particles is a complex process. Alternative substances must first be tested in terms of their safety, efficacy, environmental sustainability and product stability so that they meet the corresponding requirements. Apart from development activities, this requires comprehensive tests. Although this approach can still take some time, many manufacturers have already decided by way of precaution to waive the use of fixed microplastics particles in their products or have announced that they are working on alternative solutions.

The manufacturers of cosmetic products take over the responsibility for the products made available to consumers being safe for man and his environment. They meet this commitment within the framework of comprehensive statutory provisions throughout the world.

Read the German interview with Birgit Huber on this topic on

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