Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic found in many health and beauty products, including soap and body scrubs.
On December 18, 2015, Congress amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) by passing the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015. Learn what the new law prohibits, why Congress passed this law, when it takes effect, and more.
What is the Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015?
The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 prohibits the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of rinse-off cosmetics containing plastic microbeads.
This new law also applies to products that are both cosmetics and non-prescription (also called “over-the-counter" or "OTC") drugs, such as toothpastes.
Why did Congress pass this new law? Are there concerns about consumer safety?
Congress passed this law to address concerns about microbeads in the water supply. After you’ve scrubbed your face or brushed your teeth, the tiny plastic beads go down the drain. The concern is that microbeads may not be filtered through treatment filtration systems and end up in our lakes and oceans, where they may be mistaken for food by small fish and other wildlife.
The new law does not address consumer safety, and we do not have evidence suggesting that plastic microbeads, as used in cosmetics, pose a human health concern.
Several states have already banned products containing microbeads. Because the various state laws are different, Congress felt the need to have a single Federal law that would apply nationally.
How does the new law define a “plastic microbead”?
The new law defines the term “plastic microbead” as any solid plastic particle that is—
- 5 millimeters or less in size, and
- Intended to be used to exfoliate or cleanse the body or any part of the body.
What types of products are covered under the new law?
The law covers “rinse-off” cosmetics, including toothpaste, that contain intentionally added microbeads and are intended to exfoliate or cleanse the body.
When does the new law take effect?
The new law provides separate sets of deadlines for rinse-off cosmetics and for rinse-off cosmetics that are also non-prescription drugs.
- For rinse-off cosmetics:
- The deadline is July 1, 2017 to stop the manufacturing of the products described in the law.
- The deadline is July 1, 2018 to stop the introduction or delivery for introduction of these products into interstate commerce.
- For rinse-off cosmetics that are also non-prescription drugs:
- The deadline is July 1, 2018 to stop manufacturing the products described in the law.
- The deadline is July 1, 2019 to stop the introduction or delivery for introduction of these products into interstate commerce.
These deadlines are intended to give cosmetic and drug firms time to make any needed changes in formulations to eliminate plastic microbeads, and to give distributors and retailers time to sell their inventory of products containing plastic microbeads before the new law takes effect.
The new law provides an extra year for products that are both cosmetics and non-prescription drugs. This will provide companies with more time to perform required safety testing for their newly formulated products.
How does the new law affect state laws?
Under the new law, state or local authorities are not allowed to enact laws or continue to enforce laws that:
- restrict the manufacture of rinse-off cosmetics that contain plastic microbeads, or
- restrict the introduction or delivery of such products into interstate commerce,
unless the state or local restrictions are the same as those of the new federal law that have taken effect.
For more background on the intent of Congress in passing this law, see House Report 114-371 – Microbead-free Waters Act of 2015.
To learn more about microbeads in cosmetics and other plastics in the environment, see the following resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
- Microbeads in Cosmetics
- The Search for Microplastics: From Face Scrubs to the Sea
- Plastics and Microplastics in the Marine Environment