What is Plastic Doing in My Shampoo?

Many of us have grown up with shampoo being sold in plastic bottles, but many of us may not be aware that this isn’t where the plastic stops.

Many of the products we use daily contain plastics which are commonly referred to as ‘microbeads’. We can find them in shampoo, scrubs, cleansing balms, moisturisers, makeup and even hair spray.

You might be asking, “how do they appear on the ingredient list and why are they used?”

Well, hopefully we can help shine some light on this for you.

How to read the shampoo ingredients list

Most of us will rarely scan an ingredient list of our cosmetic products, unless we are sensitive or allergic to something. In other instances, the long scientific names can make us zone out. Hopefully, we can inspire you to take an extra minute to study the list to better make sustainable decisions for your bathroom purchases. The below are common ingredients you might see on the back of your products. It’s time we said ‘no!’ to them.

Common Microbead Ingredients

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • Nylon (PA)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)

Alongside these common microbead ingredients, there are a lot of other nasties, such as resins, waxes and silicones that are formulated to cosmetically coat your hair shaft. They all promise to create beautiful, luxurious and hydrated hair full of volume and shine.

  • Dimethicone
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Acrylates
  • Copolymers
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Paraffin Waxes

The plastic most commonly found in hair sprays is Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). It is at its most dangerous point when applied to the hair and heated up with styling tools. This effectively melts the plastic for us to breath in and can cause damage to the lungs in sensitive individuals.

For further information on microplastics please refer to the Guide to Microplastics on the “Beat the Microbead” website, a campaign by the Plastic Soup Foundation.

What does this mean for the environment?

When we use products like this, especially in the shower, we fast track these microplastics down the drain and straight into our sewer system. Our sewage treatments plants have not been designed to filter these beads from wastewater and eventually, they make it to our rivers and oceans. These do not degrade or decompose, and they are incredibly hard, if not impossible, to remove. Over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are believed to be spread throughout the world’s oceans.

From there, sea animals ingest them before some inevitably end up on our plates. You might have heard the worrying statistics that we eat as much as a credit card worth of plastic a week and up to 50,000 particles in a year.

What is Australia doing? 

The Australian Government promised to ban microbeads if the industry didn’t stop using them by July 2018. Whilst there are environmental protection laws, there is very little legislation on individual environmental issues, such as microbeads and other plastics.

As it stands, it seems the Government has forgotten its promise to ban these harmful materials from rotation.

What can ‘I’ do?

The first step in improving our consumption is to examine it and our spending habits. Become an informed consumer and take the time to research and read what is in the product you are buying.

Money matters; speak with it. Do not support brands which use microplastics in their products.

Make the move away from shampoo and conditioner packaged in plastic and consider supporting the solid shampoo and conditioner bars or products that come in refillable containers.

Solid Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

These solid-form cleansers and moisturisers do everything a liquid shampoo and conditioner can do – cleanse, add volume and sheen, protect, add moisture – but require no plastic packaging and sometimes no packaging at all! You can also be assured that they are travel friendly with no chance of spilling into your bag and can be taken in your carry-on luggage as a ‘solid’.

There are many options when it comes to solid shampoo and conditioner options. From big name brands to local options, there is something for everyone.

We love the solid shampoo bars and the natural refillable shampoo options in the haircare section section of our website, as they are locally made by small businesses from native ingredients and support our Australian economy and unique local businesses.

The most important thing we can do, beyond shopping smarter, is using our voice.

Lobbying and campaigning for change is one of the most effective ways we can have a say in the quality of life we live and the impact we can have on our environment.

Let brands know you would like to see them phase out microplastics. Whether it is through their customer service or commenting on their social media, speak up.

You can further your support by signing up to the Marine Conservation Society’s call to end Microbreads. By signing this, you will be able to send an email directly to Environment Minister Susan Ley & Assistant Environment Minister Trevor Evans to remind them of what they owe.

In conclusion, it’s time for Australia to deliver on its promise and duty, to take another step to helping heal our oceans. We don’t want plastic in shampoo and other cosmetics, neither inside nor outside on the packaging.

  • H Summers


Browse our directory of plastic pollutions solutions.


  • Juliet Buckle
    January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

    Thank you for the info

      January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am

      You’re more than welcome Juliet. We hope it was helpful.

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