Microscopic plastic beads used in beauty scrubs and creams could be banned amid fears of a threat to wildlife and human health.
The brands involved include Clinique, Johnson & Johnson, L'Occitane, Estée Lauder, Neutrogena - and even Disney.
The beads are typically used in face and body scrubs, as well as some wrinkle treatments, to remove dead skin. They are a popular ingredient in acne treatments and have been used in toothpastes and some bath products for children.
However, the tiny beads are washed into sewers and are so small that they are not filtered out by treatment centres, which means they escape in to rivers and seas.
Most are made from polyethylene, which is the same material used to make plastic bags, bullet proof vests and even knee replacements.
Once in the environment they effectively become a magnet for toxins, such as pesticides.
It is thought the beads are eaten by fish, such as tuna, and then get into high street supermarkets and on to the nation's dinner plates.
Such is the concern that President Obama implemented a ban in the US in December and other countries, including Australia and India, could well follow suit.
Now Britain's environment minister, Rory Stewart, has suggested the UK could do the same if the EU fails to back a blanket ban.
He told MPs yesterday: "If we cannot get a common position out of the European Union, we are open to the possibility of the UK acting unilaterally."
The comments were welcomed by Louise Edge, oceans campaigner with Greenpeace UK, who said: "This is the first time we have heard the UK government publicly say they are open to a possible ban on microbeads."
She added: "Microplastics represent one of the biggest emergent threats to marine life. A vast majority of UK consumers are concerned that the personal care products they buy are causing millions of microplastics to flush down our drains and out into our marine ecosystems." Greenpeace UK, along with Fauna & Flora International, the Marine Conservation Society, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Beat the Microbead launched a petition calling for a ban on microbeads. So far it has been signed by nearly 300,000.
Some beauty giants have made a unilateral decision to remove the beads from their own brand products, including L'Oreal, Unilever, Boots, Clearasil, Superdrug and Marks & Spencer.
A poll by campaign groups found more 90 per cent of British consumers want an outright ban.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association said firms are taking steps voluntarily to remove the beads, but the deadline is not until 2020.
Johnson & Johnson and Estee Lauder said they aimed to remove microbeads by the end of 2017. Elizabeth Arden said it is reformulating products and all those distributed to stores from June onwards should be bead free.