Research Foundation News

September 12, 2016

Purdue students develop environmentally friendly soy-based alternative to plastic exfoliating beads in soap

Soy awards foliate The Purdue University SoyFoliate team receives the winning prize of $20,000 at the Indiana Soybean Alliance Student Soybean Innovation Competition. The team developed a soy-based alternative to plastic microbeads found in exfoliating soaps. Pictured from left are Purdue faculty adviser Steven Scott; Purdue students Samuel Lewis, Alison Switzer, Steve Ferris and Ryan Pendergast; and faculty adviser Rodolfo Pinal. (Photo/SoyFoliate) Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Four Purdue students have created an alternative to the plastic microbeads found in nearly all exfoliating soaps by using soy-based components. Soy-based beads are safe for the environment, unlike the plastic beads that can damage the environment and harm animals.

Samuel Lewis, Steve Ferris and Alison Switzer, all third-year students in Purdue's Doctor of Pharmacy program, and Ryan Pendergast, a junior in Purdue's School of Mechanical Engineering, have developed SoyFoliate, an exfoliating soap that uses soy beads instead of plastic microbeads.

The team members came up with the idea after one of them washed their hands with exfoliating soap and started considering the possibility of replacing the plastic microbeads with soy.

"We know plastic microbeads aren't good for the environment, and after doing some research we found out how harmful they really are," Lewis said. "They can't be filtered out, so they get into the ocean, and then the fish can eat them and die. However, if they don't die, then humans eat the fish and can potentially experience harmful effects. It's an endless cycle." 

Soy awards foliate02 A team of four Purdue students has developed SoyFoliate, a soy-based soap that eliminates the existing plastic microbeads in exfoliating soaps. The soap uses soy-based components that are environmentally friendly, unlike the plastic microbeads, which will be banned beginning in 2017. (Photo/SoyFoliate) Download image

President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act, banning microbeads, into law in December 2015. The ban, however, does not go into effect until the middle of 2017.

Lewis said he and his team have developed a way to make their own soy beads.

"We mill down the soy and we set the size of the beads to one that we think is the best," Lewis said. "The soy is very rigid and once you break it down it has properties that help safely exfoliate your skin as you run it through your hands."

The soy beads provide a naturally degradable substitute for the plastic microbeads.

"Right now the plastic beads don't absorb water, but soy can over time. To mitigate the problem we mixed our beads with small amounts of oil to prevent water from saturating the beads and decreasing their rigid properties. We are still doing research on increasing shelf-stability and ensuring our product is safe for the environment," Lewis said.

The team entered their product, SoyFoliate, in the Purdue University Student Soybean Innovation Competition, a contest sponsored by the Indiana Soybean Alliance. The ISA awarded SoyFoliate first place and a $20,000 award.

Lewis and the other students are also receiving help from the Purdue Foundry, a startup accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.

SoyFoliate is looking for experts in product planning and promotion to further explore the market for the product. They are also seeking additional funding for further development and technical feasibility testing of SoyFoliate. For more information, contact Lewis,

About Purdue Foundry

Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. The Purdue Foundry collaborates with longstanding activities already taking place in the center with a goal to increase the growing demand from Purdue innovators who have an interest in forming a startup or licensing their discoveries. 

Writer: Ellen Teske,

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Hillary Henry, 765-588-3586,

Source: Samuel Lewis,

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