Silica to the Rescue: Can CPG Companies Use New Microbead Alternatives for Products?

Materials Studio

microbead alternatives
What microbead alternatives can CPG companies use to keep their personal care products effective?
Image source: Lilly_M via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, President Obama signed a bill that banned the manufacture and distribution of products containing plastic microbeads. As a result, hundreds of personal care products ranging from toothpastes to body scrubs were effectively taken off the market. The legislation puts both CPG companies and consumers in an awkward position. Consumers now have to find replacements for their favorite products, and CPG companies have to develop new formulations to satisfy those very same consumers. It’s one thing to create exciting new products to capitalize on a current trend; it’s another to find alternative ingredients which have properties as effective as the original while customers are waiting.

Even though the ban requires that retailers stop the distribution of microbead-containing goods by July 1, 2018, we’re already beginning to see how the changes will affect consumers. Some stores have begun to take steps to remove the products from their shelves.1 The change has been in the works for a while, so it’s not like CPG companies are surprised. Many have been working hard to reformulate their existing products to remove the banned plastic ingredient. Unfortunately, not all firms have viable alternatives as of yet.

Innovation Is Required to Develop Plastic Microbead Alternatives

The U.S. ban on plastic microbeads might not be the last of its kind either. Growing concern over the potential environmental impact has led to widespread calls to ban the ingredient in Europe as well. In fact, the ban in the U.S. could add support to the movement. Without a doubt, we may see this change affect major global companies, not just those in the United States.

Considering the likelihood of the additional bans, companies have been working on alternatives to plastic microbeads. The trick has been finding materials that replicate traditional microbead traits, such as the exfoliating effect that leaves people with that fresh, clean feeling, while also being cost-effective for CPG companies to utilize. Some have turned toward jojoba-derived wax beads that offer the key advantage of being biodegradable, which addresses the major concern of plastic microbead usage.2 Others have taken to silica-based microbead alternatives. These microbeads differ from the traditional type in that they have a microsponge structure that absorbs liquid ingredients and scents as part of its cleansing mechanism.3

Regardless of which option CPG companies pursue, there are a few things they must consider in addition to cost and efficacy:

  • How abrasive is it?
    Many of the personal care products that feature plastic microbeads as a major ingredient are used on a daily basis. Is the potential alternative gentle enough for daily use? Or is it abrasive enough that its recommended usage be less often?
  • Can it be engineered into varying sizes?
    Different products may call for microbeads of different sizes, depending on their intended purpose. For example, an exfoliating scrub requires microbeads of one size while a regular cleanser might work best with another. The ability to customize the microbead alternative into different sizes would be a handy trait to have.
  • What forms does it come in?
    Silica is a naturally occurring mineral. However, thanks to R&D, CPG companies have been able to develop a synthetic silica that is purer than the original. As a result, firms can work with a material that is better than the natural form as well as one that is cheaper.

As you can see, there are a few reasons why some CPG companies haven’t been able to find a perfect replacement yet. It’s a good thing manufacturers have until July 2017 to phase out plastic microbeads as an ingredient. On the other hand, that deadline also means they have a little over a year to develop new formulations to meet consumer expectations. By the looks of things, however, we’re close to finding viable alternatives, whether it’s from natural sources or synthetic replacements. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be even more effective than the plastic microbead ever was.

BIOVIA Materials Studio is a complete modeling and simulation tool that helps researchers in their quest to develop innovative materials. Whether it’s a new polymer or a replacement material intended for use in everyday products, Materials Studio allows users to predict and understand a new material’s behavior and properties. Not only can it aid the creation of better performing compounds, it can do so by while reducing the cost and time necessary to bring these new materials into fruition—which supports CPG companies in their goals to be competitive into today’s fast-paced market. Please contact us today to learn more.

  1. “Supermarkets removed microbead products before Erie County ban Sunday,” February 15, 2016, http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/supermarkets-removed-microbead-products-before-erie-county-ban-sunday-20160215
  2. “Vantage offers microbead alternative for skin exfoliation,” February 4, 2016, http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Market-Trends/Vantage-offers-microbead-alternative-for-skin-exfoliation
  3. “Silica can replace plastic microbeads,” November 19, 2014, http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20141119/NEWS/141119942/silica-can-replace-plastic-microbeads

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