Microplastics discovered in human blood for the first time

Researchers in the Netherlands published a breakthrough study in Environment International, exposing a new method of analyzing blood to detect microplastics. Out of the 22 healthy volunteers, microplastic pollution has been detected in the blood of almost 80% of them. Risks for our health and ways to avoid microplastic will be investigated in this piece.


What exactly is microplastic and how is it used?

What we commonly call “microplastic” is in fact a solid plastic particle measuring less than 5mm, and invisible to the naked eye. It’s the result of a deterioration coming from plastic objects, clothes fibers and ingredients from cosmetic products. 

In the cosmetic industry, between 1 250 and 1 910 tons of plastic microbeads are added on purpose in care products by manufacturers. Why do you ask? Well for starters it is very cheap and can fill a bottle pretty quickly, and plastic derivatives also help to create highly perfumed formulas.

Besides microplastics, most of the conventional cosmetic manufacturers also add liquid plastics such as silicons. Still very cheap, they are used to give more texture to a product and they cover skin and hair with a thin layer of plastic which gives this “soft” feeling when you use it.


Diving into the discovery

Researchers adapted already existing techniques to detect and analyze plastic particles. With the help of steel syringe needles, they tested the blood of 22 participants and found out that microplastics were in the blood of 17 of those volunteers. 

Some blood samples even contained two or three types of different plastics! Half the samples contained PET plastic, commonly used in drink bottles, a third contained polystyrene, mostly used for packaging, and a quarter contained polyethylene, the material used for grocery bags.

The discovery shows that microplastic can travel in the body and lodge itself in organs. The damages to health are yet to be known, but researchers are already concerned because it could damage human cells and we already know that air pollution from particles is causing millions of deaths each year.

According to the researchers, the plastic particles could have entered the bloodstream through air, food, water, cosmetics or care products.


The risks incurred with microplastic

Most studies on the matter are at their early stages, but they are already quite concerning. Indeed, last July two German researchers found out through an in vitro study that microplastic particles can attach the outer membranes of red blood cells and damage their functioning. Furthermore, another study was published last January in Environment International after the discovery of plastic particles in the placentas of pregnant women.

According to the report from Systemiq and The Pew Charitable Trusts, plastic flows into the ocean are expected to triple by 2040, which leaves us with so many questions: are the particles staying in our bodies? Are they moving to our organs? Will these amounts of particles trigger diseases?

So before jumping to any conclusions, we need to wait for further studies on the matter to discover possible long term effects.


Laws and regulations about microplastic in cosmetics

As you now know, microplastics are used in all sorts of products: fertilizers, phytopharmaceutical products, detergents, paints etc… 

Thankfully in the cosmetic sector, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) introduced a bill proposal to forbid the use of 90% of the microplastics used in different industries. If adopted, the prohibition would be integrated into the legislative ensemble for the European Union REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). The goal here is to avoid 400 000 tons of plastic pollution in 20 years.

As for France, the National Assembly voted to prohibit microplastics in cosmetics back in December 2019, but companies have until 2027 to make the necessary changes to their product compositions.


Tips to recognize and avoid microplastic in cosmetics

As we mentioned before, industrials love to juggle between solid and liquid microplastics in the cosmetic sector:

  • Microbeads and other solid microplastic particles can be found in shower gels, scrubs, toothpastes and other care products because it brings them texture and helps to exfoliate.
  • Liquid plastics, which are mostly used in shampoos and creams. They bind the components and have a “soft” effect on the skin.


In the cosmetic sector, plastics and microplastics can exist in many ways, and it’s not always simple to identify them in an INCI list. 

Therefore, if you are looking to ban microplastics from your cosmetic, hygiene and detergent products, you can have a look at the back of the packaging and spot those ingredients:

  • Polymers: -polymers, acrylates copolymer, alkyl alkylate crosspolymer…
  • Poly-ethylenes ou -propylenes : polyethylene glycol, polypropylene…
  • Silicons: -icone, -oxane, dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane…
  • Ingredients ending with -vinyl, -cellulose


Ecogarantie’s and other labels position on the matter

Another way to make sure you’re not using products with plastics in them: sustainable labels. Some are more strict than others, but all of them prohibit all kinds of plastics and microplastics: Cosmébio, Nature & Progrès, Slow Cosmétique, COSMOS etc…

At Ecogarantie®, we decided to be the most strict in Europe regarding the ingredients prohibited and the percentage of organic ingredients in our certified products. If you’re interested in knowing more about how the products are checked and certified, we recommend reading this article.


Sadly, microplastics are part of our everyday lives: the food we eat, the air we breathe and the cosmetics we apply on our skin are contributing to the expansion of it. We hope this article brought you more knowledge about the plastic ingredients in your selfcare products, and that it will help you raise awareness around you.

Social Media & Public Relations Manager
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