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Stern measures pushed to end illegal trade of mercury-laced skin whiteners

A group tracking mercury-added products in commerce appealed to national and local government authorities in the Philippines to get tough on importers, distributors and retailers of skin whitening cosmetics laced with toxic mercury.

Mercury skin whitening creams
Eight mercury skin whitening creams, Pasay City, Aug 5, 2021

The EcoWaste Coalition pressed the authorities to bring the perpetrators of the illegal trade in mercury-laden cosmetics to justice as it recalled the second anniversary of adoption of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the phase-out of mercury-added products and the management of the associated mercury-containing wastes.

“Despite the adoption of the NAP in 2019 and the global phase-out of mercury-added skin lightening creams and soaps in 2020, we still find, much to our regret, such cosmetic products with elevated levels of mercury openly sold in the market,” lamented Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“To put a stop to this brazen breach of national and global effort to eliminate mercury-added skin whitening cosmetics to protect human health and the environment, we urge the authorities to crack down hard on the peddlers of these dangerous products who prey on individuals seeking lighter and flawless skin,” he said.

“Identify and bring the culprits to book,” he asserted, adding that “confiscated contrabands must be safely disposed of and not simply landfilled or incinerated.”

Dizon cited the results of the group’s latest test buys in Pasay City last August 5 before the National Capital Region was placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in a bid to prevent the further spread of the dreaded COVID-19 Delta variant.

The group managed to buy eight skin whitening products illegally imported from Indonesia and Pakistan and are being sold for P150 to P250 each by beauty product dealers. The products are not covered by cosmetic product notification certificates from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as required.

Aided by a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the group detected extremely high levels of mercury ranging from 4,365 to 31,600 parts per million (ppm) on the eight products, which are said to be way above the one ppm limit set under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Below is the list of analysed skin whitening cosmetics and their mercury content as detected by the EcoWaste Coalition:

1.  Goree Day & Night Cream Beauty Cream, 31,600 ppm
2.  Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene, 27,400 ppm
3.  AQME Beauty Cream, 18,700 ppm
4.  Parley Beauty Cream, 13,700 ppm
5.  Golden Pearl Beauty Cream, 9,926 ppm
6.  Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream, 6,483 ppm
7.  Morning Face Beauty Cream, 5,282 ppm
8.  Safora Beauty Cream, 4,365 ppm

For containing toxic mercury, the FDA banned Parley Beauty Cream in 2019, Goree Beauty Cream in 2017, and Golden Pearl Beauty Cream in 2014.  Last March 24, 2021, the FDA warned the public against buying and using Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream, an unauthorized product.

“Mercury-containing skin lightening products are hazardous to health,” cautioned the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has identified the following as adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury in skin lightening creams and soaps: 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.

To avoid mercury exposure via skin whitening cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition encouraged consumers to embrace their natural skin tone, steer clear of chemical whiteners, and resist color-based bias, prejudice and discrimination.

“It’s also time for 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 group said.

“Natural is beautiful,” the group concluded.  

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