Photo credit: Etsy

It looks like the short-lived era of the plastic “microbead” used in exfoliating skin products is almost over.

This month, Illinois became the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of microbeads in cosmetic items. Four other states currently have similar bills before their legislatures — New York, Minnesota, Ohio and California.

And on June 18, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) introduced a piece of legislation which, if passed, would ban microbeads throughout the United States.

The opposition to microbeads stems from the fact that they're notoriously harmful to the environment. They're non-biodegradeable, which means they never break down. They're small enough to slip through filters at wastewater-treatment plants, so they ultimately end up going back into public water supplies, or in lakes and oceans. There, they absorb or become coated with toxins, are ingested by fish and other animals, and thus play a role in concentrating toxins and introducing them into the food chain.

When legislators attempt to ban currently legal products or practices, the companies who make or sell those products usually protest, arguing that such a ban would prove too harmful to their business model or bottom line.

Yet for the most part, that has not been the case with microbeads. Even before any U.S. states had proposed microbead bans, many cosmetic companies including Unilever, Johnson and Johnson, L'Oreal and Colgate/Palmolive had already said they intended to phase microbeads out of their products.

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