To celebrate Valentine’s Day, the toxics watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, held a mock beauty pageant in Quezon City to alert the public, particularly our women, against the proliferation of skin lightening cosmetics loaded with mercury, a toxic chemical.
The pageant, dubbed as “Miss Poison Cosmetics 2015,” had “toxic beauties” as contestants, namely “Miss BG,” “Miss Erna,” “Miss Jiaoli,” “Miss S’Zitang” and “Miss Yudantang,” representing brands of illegal mercury-laden skin whitening products that continue to thrive in the market despite being banned by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
Donning tiaras with the toxic symbol of skull and crossbones and holding heart-embellished sceptres with the warning “Mercury is Poison,” the contestants’ white faces were made to appear swollen and with blotches and scars in silver, the color of mercury.
“We’ve staged this event to notify our women and other consumers against serious health threats posed by applying mercury-laced facial whitening creams onto the skin. Exposure to mercury via dermal absorption may discolour, inflame and scar the skin instead of the promised lighter complexion. It will also cause decreased skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections,” said Aileen Lucero, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Aside from being injurious to the skin, exposure to mercury has toxic effects to the brain and the central nervous system and the kidneys,” she added.
The World Health Organization warns that “mercury is toxic to human health,” listing it as one of the “ten chemicals of major public health concern.”
The EcoWaste Coalition intensified its campaign against mercury in cosmetics after collecting fresh data confirming the widespread trade of such contraband cosmetics in 50 cities across the archipelago, from Baguio, Manila, Cebu to Zamboanga.
Citing figures from its newly-released report “Beauty and the Risk,” Lucero reported detecting mercury above the national and ASEAN regulatory limit of 1 part per million (ppm) in 316 out of the 355 samples (89%) of skin whitening creams that the group bought and screened for mercury using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
The skin whitening products, with no market authorization from the FDA, are being sold for P16.75 to P350 each in various retail outlets, mostly in food and herbal supplement shops, general merchandise stores and Chinese drug stores.
Of the 316 mercury-tainted, 287 had mercury above 1,000 ppm, 44 had mercury exceeding 5,000 ppm and 19 had extremely high levels of mercury beyond 25,000 ppm, with one sample containing 96,100 ppm of mercury.
The so-called “Dirty Dozen,” or samples with the highest mercury content per brand, includes:
1. Xuefujiaolan Herbal Whitening and Embellish Classic Set (3 small jars), 96,100 ppm
2. Beauty Girl 10 Days Double Whitening Speckles Removed Essence, 76,800 ppm
3. Yu Dan Tang Gingseng and Green Cucumber 10 Days Whitening Speckles Removed Essence, 63,100 ppm
4. BG Ginseng & Ganoderma Lucidum 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Sun Block Cream, 59,500 ppm
5. BG Sea Pearl & Papaya Natural Essence 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Sun Block Cream, 56,000 ppm
6. Beauty Girl Egg White and Tomato 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream, 48,700 ppm
7. Yu Dan Tang Green Cucumber and Ginseng 6-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream, 47,200 ppm
8. Feique Herbal Extract Chinese Formula Whitening Anti-Freckle Set, 32,000 ppm
9. Feique Cucumber Anti-Wrinkle Whitening Set, 25,800 ppm
10. Feique Rose Refining Nourishing Set, 19,500 ppm
11. Beauty Excellent Lamb Placenta Whitening and Anti-Aging, 12,900 ppm
12. Erna Whitening Cream, 11, 900 ppm
The EcoWaste Coalition’s investigation also showed that 41 of the over 100 skin whitening cosmetics banned by the FDA during the last five years are still being sold in the market. The group further discovered 26 new brands of mercury-containing skin whitening creams that should be banned and immediately removed from the market.
The results of the investigation drew immediate reaction from advocates for chemical safety and environmental health, particularly from the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), a global civil society network striving for a toxics-free future, which assisted the EcoWaste Coalition in undertaking the study.
In an e-mail sent to the EcoWaste Coalition, Lee Bell, IPEN’s Mercury Policy Advisor, congratulated the group for completing “a compelling and timely investigation into the public health hazard posed by toxic mercury in cosmetics.”
“The recommendations of this report should be fully implemented to stem the tide of illegal mercury-laced imports in the Philippines and meet the requirements of the Minamata Convention on Mercury as well as domestic regulations,” he said.
Bell affirmed that “IPEN continues to support the work of NGOs such as the Ecowaste Coalition in over 20 countries around the world to address the mercury pollution crisis and promote early ratification of the Minamata Convention.”