The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has revealed the continued sale of imported mercury-containing skin whitening creams in Cebu City in brazen violation of cosmetic safety laws.
In test buys conducted on May 14, 2022, the group managed to purchase six Jiaoli and S’Zitang facial creams for P75 to P150 each from beauty product stores located at 138 Mall along Colon Street.
“The importation, distribution and sale of these Jiaoli and S’Zitang products from China have long been prohibited to protect consumers and even non-consumers such as babies in the womb from the health damaging effects of mercury, a highly toxic chemical banned in cosmetic product formulations,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
The two variants of Jiaoli creams were among those banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010 for being “imminently injurious, unsafe or dangerous” due to their mercury content. While the two variants of S’Zitang creams were banned in 2015 and 2018.
The collected samples from Cebu City were subsequently screened for mercury in Quezon City using an Olympus Vanta M Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) quick analyzer for heavy metals like mercury.
Among the samples found to contain mercury above the maximum limit of one part per million (ppm) were Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set, Jiaoli Miraculous Cream (2 samples), S’Zitang 7 Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set and S’Zitang 10-day Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set (2 samples).
As per XRF screening, the products contain mercury ranging from 762 to 1,408 ppm, exceeding the 1 ppm limit.
“The continued sale of Jiaoli and S’Zitang products in Cebu and other parts of the country goes against national and global laws banning highly toxic mercury in cosmetics,” Lucero said. “We call upon the Cebu City government to immediately act upon this serious threat to public health in coordination with the FDA.”
Nationally, the Philippines as a member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations follows the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive, which in 2007 included mercury and its compounds on the “list of substances which must not form part of the composition of cosmetic products.”
Globally, the Minamata Convention on Mercury lists cosmetics such as skin lightening creams and soaps with mercury content above 1 ppm among products whose manufacture, import or export would not be allowed by 2020.
According to the FDA, “the adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetic products include kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring.”
The agency has warned “chronic use reduces the skin’s normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy. The transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopmental deficits later in life.”
To avoid mercury exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition encouraged consumers in Cebu and elsewhere to embrace their natural skin tone and shun chemical whiteners, stressing “natural nga kolor kay gwapa” (natural color is beautiful).”