For anyone who's ever snorkeled, it's hard to imagine using any of the flora and fauna on the ocean floor on your body. But take a stroll through beauty department at any store, and you'll see a mix of natural and synthetic sponges. The man-made sponges may be more prominent the natural ones, but which ones are a better fit for your bath tub?
Sea sponges have been around since dinosaurs ruled the earth and are actually classified as animals because they grow by consuming organic materials instead of by photosynthesis. They come in many shapes in sizes and are composed of organic matter, calcium carbonate or glass.
With advertisers boasting the natural and organic properties of products, green-conscious consumers might be tempted to opt for the natural sea sponges. However, as with any natural or synthetic product, sea sponges have their plusses and minuses. For those who like to go green, sea sponges are eco-friendly. If harvested properly, sponges will grow back, making them sustainable resources. Also, the harvesting process doesn't involve chemicals or by-products that damage the environment, which is a bonus for Mother Nature [source: Brown].
On your body, the rough surface of the natural sea sponges can be a superb exfoliating device, clearing off dead skin cells. They open up pores, leaving you with fresh, glowing skin. They're also pricier than their man-made counterparts.
By comparison, the neon-colored artificial sponges on the store shelves can look more enticing than their brown, grey, and tan natural cousins. But they aren't exactly perfect. Synthetic sponges are generally manufactured from wood pulp, and some environmentalists believe their popularity encourages logging [source: Buzzle]. However, they're cheaper, easier to find, easier to clean, and an equally useful exfoliator.
Synthetic sponges often contain antimicrobial ingredients meant to keep germs off your body. But it's not necessarily a good thing. Some environmental groups consider triclosan, the most popular antimicrobial agent, to be unhealthy [source: Walker]. Studies at the University of California Davis suggested that triclosan may have a negative effect on hormones and the nervous system [source: Downs].
If your skin is on the sensitive end of the spectrum or you have a skin condition such as eczema, scrubbing up with an antibacterial sponge with properties might cause an epidermis disaster. People with special skin issues should steer clear of chemicals – like triclosan -- that cause their skin to have a negative reaction [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. If you choose an artificial sponges, avoid those made of abrasive polyester. Even sponges with seemingly softer fibers can scratch the skin and leave a trail of unwanted chemicals on your body [source: Peck].
Finally, before you start scrubbing, consider the condition of your skin. Using any kind of sponge -- whether natural or synthetic -- might be too coarse for some skin types. If you have sensitive skin, dry skin or skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or contact dermatitis, be extra gentle. You might prefer to bathe using just your hands or a very soft cloth [source: Casey]. If you have oily skin that tends toward acne, scrubbing your face with a sponge may prompt additional breakouts.
When it comes to sponges, the choice is up to you. If you're concerned with sustainability, then sea sponges are a sure-fire winner. But if modern is more your cup of tea, choose synthetic varieties.
Keep reading for even more information and articles on synthetic and natural sponges.
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