Bright caucasian man spraying water on his face after shaving in the bathroom at home (Bigstock)
How microbeads in face wash are polluting waterways
On Earth, fall edition

Lather, rinse, repeat? You may want to think twice before following this advice the next time you wash your face — and not because it might dry out your skin.

Microbeads are a popular new addition to exfoliating facial scrubs and cleansers, but the tiny plastic balls are also contributing to pollution in American waterways, according to the fall issue of On Earth magazine.

“While microbeads may be less visible than plastic bags, they are no less environmentally problematic,” Susan Freinkel writes in the Natural Resources Defense Council publication.

A big part of the problem is the size of the microbeads. The spheres are a fraction of a millimeter in diameter and designed to go down drains and through pipes; this means they’re also small enough to pass through filters and into lakes, rivers and oceans.

Once in the water, they’re slow to break down but quick to absorb other pollutants. Because they “look just like fish eggs, and thus like food,” according to one researcher, they’re gobbled up like “toxic junk food” by such aquatic creatures as plankton, mussels and larger fish.

The article reports that some manufacturers have pledged to remove microbeads from their products, but it may take several years before the plastics are phased out.

In the meantime, the magazine has a suggestion: “How about just using some soap and a washcloth?”

Social Networking
A shocking way to break that Facebook habit
Pavlov Poke

If you find yourself wasting time on e-mail or Facebook, a couple of PhD students at MIT have come up with a way to zap yourself back to more important matters. Their device, the Pavlov Poke, uses a mild electric shock when users stray into a distracting site.

Robert Morris and Dan McDuff designed the device to wean themselves off social media sites — and help them finish their dissertations. (Combined, they say, they waste more than 50 hours a week looking at Facebook.)

The Poke uses software that monitors which applications are running on a computer and a code with parameters establishing which sites and what frequency of visits would be considered distracting. If a site is visited too often, this activates a shock circuit that sends an electric current to the offender’s hand through the computer’s keyboard.

For those interested in constructing their own Pavlov Poke, Morris and McDuff have posted instructions and a diagram online, at