In the bustling markets of Pakistan, personal care products (PCPs) like face washes and scrubs are daily staples. Beneath their cleansing properties, however, lies a less visible concern that has recently become the focus of environmental research. A study led by researchers Hisam Shumaila S, Taneez Mehwish M, Sagheer Muhammad Zahid MZ, and Dilshad Aqsa A at the Sulaiman Bin Abdullah Aba Al-Khail-Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Basic Sciences (SA-CIRBS), International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan, has uncovered alarming levels of microbeads in these PCPs. These microbeads contribute significantly to the troubling accumulation of microplastics in natural water bodies, triggering ecological imbalances.

The comprehensive study, titled “Microbeads in Personal Care Products Sold in Pakistan: Extraction, Quantification, Characterization, and Buoyancy Analysis,” was recently published in a reputable journal, showcasing essential findings pertinent to environmental safety and consumer awareness. The team examined a range of personal care products, analyzing microbead content, size, polymer type, and buoyancy—a multi-dimensional inquiry that paints a detailed picture of the challenges posed by these minuscule pollutants.

Extraction and Quantification

Surveying a total of twelve PCPs, including five face washes and seven scrubs readily available in the Pakistani market, the research team deployed meticulous methods to extract and quantify microbeads. The study presented staggering contrasts among the products. For instance, Neutrogena (NS) face wash contained the highest microbead content of approximately 11 mg/g, whereas Nivea (NI) face wash showed a notably lower concentration at 0.33 mg/g. This disparity underlines a lack of standardization and regulatory oversight.

In the scrubs category, products like Cool and Cool (CL) were found to house a higher concentration of microbeads, averaging 57.08 mg/g, whereas Yong Chin (YC) contained about 10.5 mg/g. The extensive range of microbead size, from as small as 3.14 μm to as large as 747 μm, further complicates environmental mitigation efforts due to the variability in behavior and effects of these plastics when they enter aquatic ecosystems.

Characterization of Microbeads

The painstaking analysis extended to a characterization of the microbeads’ chemical composition using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. The findings revealed that the majority of microbeads consisted of ethyl-vinyl acetate (EVA), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and nitrile, exhibiting a varied polymer makeup that impacts ecosystems differently. For example, EVA constituted 66.66% of the isolated microbeads, signifying its prevalence in the PCPs explored within this study.

Buoyancy Analysis and Environmental Concerns

Perhaps more troubling than their prevalence is the microbeads’ buoyant behavior. Most microbeads exhibited negative buoyancy in both freshwater and seawater, meaning they are likely to sink and integrate into the benthic environments. This property makes them readily available for ingestion by a myriad of organisms, settling into sediments and perpetuating long-term ecological implications.

The insidious nature of these particles lies in their persistence. Unlike organic matter, microplastics do not decompose readily, thus remaining in the environment for extended periods and potentially causing disruptions in the food chain, as well as physical and chemical harm to marine organisms.

Regulatory Imperatives and Public Awareness

The SA-CIRBS study’s findings on microbeads in personal care products sold in Pakistan underscore the acute need for regulatory reform and consumer education. Existing research reflects the pressing need for international and localized action against microplastic pollution.

Reports from several scholarly works, such as Au et al. (2015), Eriksen et al. (2013), and Cole et al. (2013), establish that microplastics, including those from personal care products, have been found in various aquatic organisms, raising grave concerns for the marine food web and, by extension, human health. A study by Van Cauwenberghe & Janssen (2014) indicates that microplastics have been detected in bivalves and other shellfish, which are directly linked to human consumption.

The use of polyethylene microbeads in exfoliants and other PCPs has attracted increasing scrutiny and regulation in several countries. Policymakers and industry stakeholders are prompted to explore alternative, biodegradable materials for abrasive purposes in cosmetics, a conversation that is mirrored in this study’s call for increased regulation.

Researchers and environmental advocacy groups suggest that without binding legal frameworks and stringent enforcement, the problem of microplastic pollution will continue to escalate. This prediction holds particular relevance for countries with burgeoning beauty and personal care industries, where consumer demand and manufacturing oversight may not align with environmental safeguarding.

Proposed Solutions and the Way Forward

In light of the research findings, there is a clear impetus for Pakistan, among other nations, to enact and enforce legislation banning microbeads in personal care products. Consumer awareness campaigns are also crucial to altering purchasing habits that inadvertently contribute to microplastic pollution.

Nature’s spiral cannot afford the imprint of these microscopic invaders; thus, comprehensive change—in production, consumption, and disposal—is imperative. It requires collaborative efforts from government bodies, industry leaders, scientists, and consumers. As elucidated by Anagnosti et al. (2021) and Xanthos & Walker (2017), positive legislative approaches in the European Union and the progressive stances in North America offer a blueprint for Pakistan to follow.


The investigation led by the researchers at SA-CIRBS brings indispensable attention to a global problem that is palpable at the national scale in Pakistan. The proliferation of microbeads in personal care products is a silent threat to aquatic ecosystems and human health, meriting rigorous scientific scrutiny and societal action. Through this study, the call to action resonates clearer than ever: safeguarding water bodies from microplastic pollution starts with individual choices supported by decisive institutional policies. As evidenced by the exhaustive data and scholarly references, combating the scourge of microbeads is a collective struggle—an environmental crusade that transcends borders and binds together the global community.


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Last Update: January 10, 2024