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Silica is a mineral that has continued to grow in popularity for use in cosmetics and personal care products. The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 is still challenging formulators to find alternatives for plastic microbeads used in cosmetic and personal care products. Silica is an attractive replacement because it is safe, multifunctional, and consistent in purity and physical properties.
What is the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015?
In 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act became federal law, banning the use of plastic microbeads in personal care products. Petrochemical-based microbeads, which were primarily used as exfoliants in skin care products, contributed to water pollution and are slow to biodegrade. Microbeads are so tiny that it is difficult to collect or recycled them in conventional wastewater treatment. They became persistent organic pollutants that accumulated in water life. Ultimately these plastic microbeads can be toxic to animals and humans.
The act bans the use of microbeads in “rinse-off” cosmetics like toothpaste and face wash. Formulators sought to find a replacement exfoliant that was natural, biodegradable and just as effective.
What is Silica?
Silica, also known as silicon dioxide, is a naturally occurring mineral found abundantly on Earth. It is the most common component of sand in many parts of the world. You can also find silica in sandstone, clay, granite and in certain animals and plants. It is generally colorless or white and insoluble in water.
There are two primary forms of silica: crystalline silica and amorphous silica. Crystalline silica has been linked to a variety of health hazards, such as cancer and allergies. For that reason, commercial skincare and cosmetic applications prefer using ingredients that don’t have those health hazards. Amorphous silica and hydrated silica are GRAS (generally regarded as safe) ingredients of personal care products like makeup and sunscreen.
Amorphous Silica: A Safe Alternative to Microbeads?
After the ban of plastic microbeads from cosmetics in 2015, many formulators turned to amorphous silica. Amorphous silica gels make excellent ingredients for skin products because the spherical particles apply smoothly, spread nicely and absorb sweat and oil. They also improve the skin’s appearance because they diffuse light to provide a matte finish. They give skin a luxurious, silky feel without any sticky residue.
Advantages of silicas in cosmetics and skincare:
- Provide natural exfoliation (abrasive agent)
- Absorb oil and sweat
- Help makeup adhere better to the face
- Provide a matte finish (opacifying agent)
- Thicken the consistency of creams and lotions
- Help foundations spread onto the skin (bulking agent)
- Improve the distribution of pigments (anticaking agent)
- Prevent cosmetics from settling into makeup (suspending agent)
AGC Chemicals Americas offers many grades of micro spherical amorphous silica as a safe and effective alternative to petrochemical-based polymeric microbeads. These Solesphere™ grades are designed to be used as an ingredient in makeup, lipsticks, and eye products. When applied to the skin, the microspherical particles diffuse light to create a matte effect, absorb sweat and sebum, and contribute to a smooth feel. Certain Solesphere products also boost SPF in sunscreens and other skincare products.
Some Solesphere products are highly porous. This means they can be used to carry fragrances and antiseptics. Other nonporous varieties of silica provide insulating and light-diffusing properties in specialty polymer systems.
Alternatives to Silicas
While silicas are generally the preferred alternative exfoliant to plastic microbeads, there are a variety of other natural alternatives. Materials including crushed walnut shells, oats, sugar, jojoba seeds, clays and the powder of fruit kernels can act as good replacements for wash-off cleansing and exfoliating products. However, their size and shape cannot be as controlled. Silicas are tasteless, odorless, more easily processed and provide virtually unlimited formulation options.
To learn more about incorporating AGC’s fine silica products into your application, contact a product expert today.
Solesphere™ is a registered trademark of AGC Si-Tech Company Ltd, an affiliate of the AGC Group of Japan. Solesphere™ is distributed in North America by AGC Chemicals Americas Inc.