EcoWaste Coalition deplores unabated sale of smuggled mercury-laced skin whitening creams

The environmental health watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has condemned the unabated sale of smuggled skin whitening products that cosmetic regulators had long banned for containing mercury, a highly toxic chemical.

In a statement made on the occasion of the National Poison Prevention Week, the group assailed the manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of mercury-laden skin whitening products for violating the global, regional and national bans on mercury-added cosmetics.   

Globally, the Minamata Convention bans cosmetics, including skin lightening products, with mercury above 1 part per million (ppm), following the phase-out of such cosmetics in 2020.  Regionally, the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD) under Annex II bans mercury and its compounds in cosmetic product formulations.  Nationally, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in line with the ACD, bans skin whitening products with mercury in excess of the allowable limit of 1 ppm.

“We strongly deplore the unabated trade of contraband facial creams contaminated with mercury that can harm a person’s health,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition, stressing “repeated application of mercury-laced whiteners can damage the brain, nervous system, kidneys and the skin itself.”  

The group’s condemnation came after it bought seven samples of FDA-banned skin whitening cosmetics from retail stores in Binondo and Sta. Cruz, Manila selling cosmetics, food supplements and herbal products. 

Among the items purchased by the group were Collagen Plus Vit E Day Day & Night Cream, Erna Whitening Cream, Feique Herbal Extract Whitening Anti-Freckle Set, Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene, Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream, S’Zitang 7-Day Specific Whitening & Spot AB Set, and S’Zitang 10-Day Whitening & Spot Day Night Set. 

Subsequent screening using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer found mercury in the range of 1,259 to 31,300 ppm on the said products.  The highest mercury content was detected in the two variants of the “made in Pakistan” Goree Beauty Cream, which the FDA banned in 2017.  

Combined law enforcement operations will cut the supply of mercury-containing cosmetics and help implement the “National Action Plan for the Phase-Out of Mercury-Added Products and the Management of Associated Mercury-Containing Wastes” that was completed in 2019, said Dizon.

“We therefore urge local government, health, police and customs authorities to conduct an all-out crackdown on the sale of these dangerous cosmetics and impose the full force of the law on violators,” he said.

“The authorities need to identify and bring the perpetrators of this toxic trade to justice.  This will send a strong and unequivocal message to those who profit from this trade of poison cosmetics to stop or get fined and/or jailed,” he emphasized.  

The EcoWaste Coalition had earlier urged consumers to shun chemical whiteners, embrace their natural skin color with pride and stand up to color-based bias, prejudice and discrimination.

It has likewise urged the cosmetics industry to move away from white-centric concepts and ideals of beauty, and promote diversity in beauty instead, including the inherent beauty of one’s natural skin color.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that “mercury-containing skin lightening products are hazardous to health.”

According to the WHO, “adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include: kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.”

“The use of mercury-laden skin lightening cosmetics by pregnant women, lactating mothers and nannies is of utmost concern as developing fetuses, babies and children are very sensitive to the toxic effects of mercury,” warned Dizon.  “A pregnant woman, for instance, can pass the mercury to the fragile baby in her womb.”

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