The weather is warming, sun is shining more regularly, and we want to get outside and feel the renewal of spring. Just like spring cleaning our home, our faces can use a little sluffing off of winter's heaviness.

Exfoliating is already a part of most healthy skincare regimes on at least a weekly or bi-weekly basis...but what's going on in that tube/bottle/jar of scrub? Once upon a time, the cosmetics industry added tiny particles of organic matter to  products that would scrub away dead skin cells. These were usually ground apricot or peach pits, that stood up well to water and did a great job of scrubbing. Unfortunately, we learned, eventually, that they also did a great job of cutting our skin with tiny micro-tears and scratches...not exactly the recipe for clear, healthy skin.

Enter innovation, and most brands of exfoliating scrub changed over to what are often called "microbeads," usually tiny plastic spheres, nicely rounded so they don't damage your epidermis...BUT...as we know, plastic doesn't biodegrade. The microbeads, often polyetheylene, did the abrasion job well, but are small enough that they tend to wash through waste water treatment plants and end up in waterways and, after floating along for a spell, in the ocean. There are regions where microplastics may be more abundant than plankton...and of course, looking somewhat like plankton, are presumed to be delicious by crustaceans and fish.

The result, like all plastic waste/litter, is a build up of non-degradable plastic adding to the pollution floating around our waterways and possibly taking the lives of creatures on the food chain along the way.

What is the alternative? How about sugar scrubs? Powdered beans? Clays? Maybe just a soft, gentle facial brush with your regular cleanser? It can be hard to read through the creative terminology on product labels, but many of the most popular brands we find on shelves here, as well as in international markets, are contributing to this preventable form of pollution. Just say no...


A creamy cleansing milk or wash you already use is the base. Sugar is the easiest gentle abrasive you probably won't have to shop for—use table sugar, not large particle turbinado. Whether making enough scrub for a single use or a whole batch to use repeatedly, start sparingly with the sugar or other abrasive choice, and keep adding until you get a spreadable paste-like consistency. Add one or more extras as the mood strikes: cooled green tea for healing, honey for antimicrobial cleansing, coconut oil to soften, lemon juice as a tonic, olive oil to repair and refine, coffee grounds to soften, yogurt to repair and increase blood flow, baking soda to clear breakouts, oatmeal to heal and nourish.

Living in a way that is more green needn't mean sacrifice, and it is often far more satisfying (and affordable).

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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation (AARBF.org) and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project (mentorartists.org). Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at www.ChangeByDoing.com. As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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