Instead of a product with microbeads, why not make your own face and body scrubs from (cheap) stuff that's already in your galley . . . and a lot nicer to the environment!

Instead of Microbeads . . .

I was shocked a few years ago reading an article about plastics in the Great Lakes and the increase in the amounts of microparticles being found. And most of those microparticles were in the form of microbeads — those things that make many skin scrubs feel rough (they’re also in some other products, but primarily face and body scrubs).  How about your scrub or exfoliant?  Does it contain microbeads?

The thing about microbeads, it seems, is that they’re so small that they pass right through wastewater filters.  So it’s not just bad to use them on the boat, but even when you’re ashore.

Dead-bird-with-plastic-thumYou know that if they are finding this stuff in the Great Lakes, it’s in all sorts of other places.  And that’s not good.  I don’t know if microbeads are part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but I have to assume they are.  I’m haunted by this picture of a bird from there with nothing but plastic in its stomach.

The good news is that there are lots of options other than microbeads for getting all that dead skin off.  Yeah, most of us who spend a fair amount of time on the water do feel the need to get rid of that flaky stuff.  But let’s do it in ways that doesn’t harm the very water that we were out enjoying.

It’s pretty easy to make your own scrubs from stuff that’s in the galley. Pour about a teaspoon of any of the following (or a combination) into your hand and rub it into your damp skin, then rinse.  You’ll be surprised at how well it works!

  • Salt (coarse is best)
  • Baking soda (great on your face)
  • Oats
  • Coffee grounds (yep, you can use ones that have been used to make coffee, which were just going in the trash anyway)

Big plus:  these are all cheap.  Very cheap.  And they’re already in your galley!

Loofahs are another popular way to scrub, but I’ve always found that they get stinky after just a few uses.  You can also buy plastic/nylon face scrubbers that last a fairly long time before getting nasty.

When we were cruising in Mexico, I couldn’t find face/body scrubbers.  Instead, I bought “Light Duty” 3M scrubbing pads (the while ones) at the hardware.  Seriously, I couldn’t tell the difference.

TrekrNow I know of another great product:  Trekr wash cloths.  They’re made by the same company that makes the Scrubr dish cloths that I love because they just never get stinky (read my article about them).  The Trekrs have a bit of grit to them — they were originally designed for people who were backpacking and hiking all day and wanted to get clean.  I’ve been using them for the past year with just soap (biodegradable soap to be precise) and love them.  So that’s another option.  You can get them from Amazon or order direct from Lunatec (they offer reasonably priced shipping worldwide).

Got something else that works well for you?  Please leave a note in the comments and whatever you do, please don’t use a product with microbeads!

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  • Jodi Ursu
    Posted at 11 October 2013 Reply

    The mornings spent coffee grounds and a little coconut oil will get your akin glowing and softer than you can imagine. Seriously, their are people out there who pay 100’s of dollars for the results just a little “trash” will give.

  • Jody
    Posted at 15 October 2013 Reply

    Repurposing coffee grounds for a scrub sounds great!! But what about rinsing them off?? I’m new to living aboard and have a lot to learn, but i would think it would be best to avoid getting coffee grounds in the shower or deck drains. Thoughts?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 15 October 2013 Reply

      It really depends on the size drains you have. I know, that’s not too helpful. Some people believe that putting a small amount of coffee grounds through the hoses helps to keep them running freely by sort of scrubbing out any crud collected on the inside (mainly soap residue) while others feel that the coffee just sticks to the residue. I pour boiling water down the drains once a month to clear out anything that’s congealed, so that helps with any grounds that might be sticking to soap.

      I tended to use the other materials when I wanted a good scrub as I’d forget to save coffee grounds, but did have some grounds that would go down the galley sink as the result of spills and so forth, and never had a problem with them causing a clog — but I was pretty religious about the boiling water.

  • Dee Hanson Smith
    Posted at 25 October 2013 Reply

    Wow. I had no idea! Thanks for the info

  • Carolyn Shearlock
    Posted at 25 October 2013 Reply

    I first found out about the problem from an article that was posted here on FB (although not in WWS) by three different friends — one being Behan, a WWS. I was floored!

  • Behan Fravel Gifford
    Posted at 26 October 2013 Reply

    Thanks for sharing this Carolyn, super important!

  • Eva De Lourdes Edwards
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    There’s an app for iPhone, Beat the Microbead, which when you put it up to the bar label on a product and click, tells you if it’s on a list of products with microbeads that are dangerous to sea life. Humans who eat fish are also ingesting microscopic plastic beads and that can’t be good. Thanks for sharing.

  • Carolyn Shearlock
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the info — I just checked and it’s available for Android, too. Downloading it now!

  • Lisa Garvey
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    I saw this article the other day. Thought of our discussion and thought others might be interested in knowing more.

  • Sue Klumb
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    Very interesting…hadn’t heard of that :/ Thanks for sharing!

  • Lann Crane Barry
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    I don’t wear a lot of makeup or lotions, except suncreen, so years ago a woman told me instead of buying an exfoliator (sp?), just pour some sugar into my hands and rub it on my face and neck when I’m in the shower. I’m so cheap that I started taking a packet from diners, Starbucks, etc. to use in the shower every couple of weeks. It’s cheap and dissolves easily!

  • Sara A. Skokan
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    Sugar and salt – two items you probably have on board work great as scrubs. If you want to get fancy – add honey. Want a good facial? Crush some aspirin (the real stuff) and add to honey, smooth on clean dry skin, rinse off in 15 minutes. There’s just no reason to waste money on that stuff and hurt the environment! I love love love the idea of stealing the packets from Starbucks in a pinch – will do great for travelling.

  • Behan Gifford
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    Carolyn, THANK YOU for writing about this and showing how easy the alternatives can be. This is truly insidious plastic entering our oceans- it shouldn’t be legal, much less commonplace!

  • Mary Makepeace
    Posted at 30 May 2014 Reply

    Our local TV news station recently did a story on this and it is also in Crest toothpaste I think it was the complete variety. The little blue specks are microbeads. 🙁

  • Mary Burnett
    Posted at 31 May 2014 Reply

    Baking soda & cetaphil lotion, followed with a swab of hydrogen peroxide. Perfect Ph. Beautiful skin.

  • Lupari Sue
    Posted at 05 September 2014 Reply

    Great message, thank you Carolyn. We all need to be aware of where these things are hiding and what cheap, effective and emvironmentally friendly alternatives we can use instead.

  • Donna Cantwell
    Posted at 18 November 2017 Reply

    Can you store the scrub in a container or must you make and use immediately?

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 18 November 2017 Reply

      The oatmeal one can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container and kept cool (such as in a cooler or refrigerator). Otherwise it will get rock hard if it dries out or mold if it gets too warm.

  • Karen Stresau
    Posted at 19 November 2017 Reply

    As someone who’s spent most of my life battling breakouts, I’ve tried just about everything to keep my skin clean. I used to use the harsh scrubs until an esthetician told me that these products actually make your skin more prone to breakouts. Some scrubs actually create micro tears which can cause inflammation. The oatmeal scrub or a baby wash cloth are fine but you may want to avoid the scrubs that have sharp edges. Here’s a link to a good article:

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