18 November 2018, Quezon City. Skin whitening products laced with mercury, a highly poisonous substance, remain a serious threat to public health, especially to women.
The EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental health organization, pointed to the uninterrupted marketing of imported skin lightening creams laden with mercury despite regulatory efforts to get these dangerous products out of commerce.
To call attention to the continuing trade of such dangerous skin whiteners, the EcoWaste Coalition this month searched for and purchased products that are among those already banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to their mercury content. Under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive, the trace amount limit for mercury in cosmetics is one part per million (ppm).
All the 15 products bought and screened for mercury using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer were found to be contaminated with mercury in the range of 710 to 30,000 ppm. The products were purchased from November 4 to 16 for P60 to P280 each from stores selling cosmetics, herbal supplements and Chinese medicines in Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig and Quezon Cities.
The group’s latest test purchase coincided with the second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP2) on November 19 to 23 in Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty, which the Duterte government has yet to ratify, aims “to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.”
Among other targets, the treaty requires the phase-out of cosmetics, including skin lightening products, with mercury above 1 ppm by year 2020.
“The 2020 phase-out deadline for mercury-laced skin lightening products is fast approaching, and we still find these smuggled products in store shelves. Jiaoli Miraculous Cream, for example, is still up for sale despite being banned by the FDA in 2010,” lamented Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition. “These products are damaging our people’s health, especially the health of our women who use such products to lighten their skin color, get rid of dark spots or remove freckles. Governments must have the political will to wipe these toxic cosmetics off the face of the earth,” he insisted.
Lee Bell, Mercury Policy Advisor of IPEN (a global NGO network promoting safe chemicals policies and practices which counts among its members the EcoWaste Coalition), agreed with Dizon. “Mercury-based skin lightening creams should be consigned to history,” he said.
“There was a time when we had little information about highly toxic materials like mercury being added to cosmetics and were powerless to act on them. Thanks to EcoWaste Coalition this is no longer the case. They have consistently shined a light on the illicit sales of this dangerous product, which effectively poisons its users and can even contaminate their home and family. It’s time for the Philippine regulators to end this dangerous trade and ensure their citizens are safe from tainted cosmetics,” he added.
According to the World Health Organization, “the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.” It also warned that “mercury in skin lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.”
The 15 products bought and found by the EcoWaste Coalition to contain excessive mercury contaminant include: Parley Herbal Beauty Cream with Avocado (with 30,000 ppm of mercury), Goree Beauty Cream (22,800 ppm), Goree Day & Night Whitening Cream (20,000 ppm), Yudantang 6-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream (19,200 ppm), Golden Pearl Beauty Cream (11,600 ppm), Erna Whitening Cream (8,957 ppm), Feique Lemon Whitening Freckle-Removing Cream (6,122 ppm), S’Zitang-golden box (2,539 ppm), S’Zitang 10-Day Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set, (2,470 ppm), S’Zitang 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set (1,995 ppm), Jiaoli Miraculous Cream (1,888 ppm), Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set, (1,452 ppm), Collagen Plus VitE Day & Night Cream (1,139 ppm), and JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream (710 ppm).
Except for Feique Lemon Whitening Freckle-Removing Cream, all the other 14 products are already banned by the FDA because of their high mercury content.
To protect public health and the environment, the EcoWaste Coalition urged governments across the globe to take proactive steps to realize the 2020 phase-out deadline for mercury-containing skin whitening cosmetics and other mercury-added products, including targeted batteries, bulbs and lamps, switches and relays, pesticides, biocides and topical antiseptics, and non-electronic devices such as barometers, hygrometers, manometers, thermometers, and sphygmomanometers.