Just like the danger of the hole in the ozone layer, governments and businesses all over the world have acted swiftly — once the danger is being known — to stop plastic microbeads being flushed into the sea, eaten by fish and thence by us.
But why, more precisely, are plastic microbeads, used in a vast variety of face creams and toothpastes, so dangerous? After all, they’re not chemically toxic or they wouldn’t be used for products in the first place. It’s because our body cells are not watery places in which chemicals are sloshing about. This is the concept that most people have of them. Instead, our body cells are full of machinery, full from top to bottom and side to side with scarcely any free water in them except a thin skin acting as a lubricant.
Our body cells are jam-packed with carbon-based molecules, some quite small but mostly — such as proteins — very large indeed when compared with plastic microbeads. The molecules are, however, very knobbly and have to be fitted together very very carefully and snugly before any chemical reaction can take place between them Microbeads will stick to the knobbly molecules and, in time, when enough have accumulated, the molecules will not be able to fit together closely. Chemical reactions will cease, cells die.
In short, the entry of plastic microbeads into our body cells has the same effect as throwing grit into a car engine. Our body cells will jam up. As for the microbeads, there’ll be no possible way of flushing them out.