Say ‘so long’ to microbeads. The teeny plastic spheres, said to be gentler than other, more natural exfoliating particles, may soon vanish from your facial scrub.

The issue isn’t that microbeads are bad for people’s skin, but for the planet. The particles are so small they slip through wastewater-treatment filters and end up by the ton at the bottom of oceans and lakes, such as Lake Erie. There, they leach chemicals like Bisphenol-A (BPA) into the water and are gobbled by fish, which, in turn, are gobbled by us. In 2014, Illinois passed a law to phase out the sale there of products with plastic microbeads. Other states are pursuing similar legislation, and major personal-care companies have voluntarily pledged to de-microbead their scrubs, shampoos and toothpastes over the next several years.

If companies have been so quick to dump microbeads, why did they adopt them in the first place? Back in the ‘80s, facial scrubs got their power from ingredients like ground oatmeal and crushed apricot pits. Then, in the ‘90s, the beauty industry announced a solution to a problem we didn’t know we had. The jagged edges of these tiny particles could irritate our skin, so companies were replacing them with something better.

But maybe microbeads were simply cheaper. “Natural materials can be more expensive and sometimes harder to source,” says Celeste Lutrario, VP of Research and Development at Burt’s Bees, a line of more natural products, which does not use plastic microbeads. (Reality check: Burt’s Bees is owned by the Clorox Company.)  

As for whether we’re all in for raw, abraded faces: Not necessarily. People with sensitive skin can opt for finer exfoliators, like sugar. New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD, creator of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare, uses gentle hydroxy acids in his line. But the most Earth-friendly “scrub” may be even more basic. “Cleansing with a fresh washcloth with a very light pressure and circular motions might be all you need,” Gross says.