Soap commercials (and all commercials, one could argue) are all about the power of tiny differences, convincing you that some small detail about this product is going to make your face exponentially cleaner than whatever you’re currently using. For a while, microbeads were the cool new thing, as evidenced by this face wash commercial where Hayden Panettiere dances around, proclaiming that “Icy blue microbeads exfoliate and clean deep down to pores!”
The microbeads, used in many different soaps, are tiny pieces of plastic that provide grittiness, for extra scrubbing power. And last week, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that bans them. Companies will have to stop manufacturing products with microbeads by the end of 2018, and such products can no longer be sold in Illinois starting at the end of 2019.
The controversy around the beads has been building for some time. The problem, opponents say, is that the beads are too micro—they can slip through filtration systems and find their way into waterways, where they sit, gleaming, beckoning fish who think they are tasty treats.
While it’s obviously not great, in and of itself, that fish could be eating plastic, what’s more worrisome is that the plastics have been shown in tests to absorb pollutants like pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (created by combusting fuels like wood, diesel, and coal) from the air and water around them.