As much as 86 tonnes of tiny pieces of plastic known as "microbeads" are washed into the environment in the UK each year from exfoliating scrubs, research has warned.
A Parliamentary research paper looking at the issues around microplastics, such as microbeads, points out they can be eaten or swallowed by marine life, with one study finding them in more than a third (36.5%) of fish in the English Channel.
They have also been found in mussels, tiny organisms known as zooplankton, oysters, seals and whales.
The main sources of microplastics are synthetic fibres from textiles, microbeads which are found in products such as face scrubs, and large pieces of plastic which become microplastics as they disintegrate. Between 16 and 86 tonnes of microbeads are estimated to be washed into the sea in the UK each year.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has published a research briefing on Marine Microplastic Pollution, an issue which the Environmental Audit Committee is conducting an inquiry into.
Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said they would consider calling for a ban on microbeads if cosmetics companies did not take action to phase out the plastic pollution.
“This paper raises important questions about the damage microplastics could be doing to our marine environment.
"We know shellfish and fish are ingesting plastic fragments, what we don’t know is the effect this is having on them and on human health.
“The most effective way to reduce microplastic pollution is to prevent plastic entering our waters in the first place.
"Cosmetics companies need to clean up their act and phase out the plastic microbeads causing marine pollution. If they refuse to act, the Environmental Audit Committee will consider calling for a full ban on microbeads.”