Doctors and Environmentalists Back Intensified Action vs. Illegal Trade of Mercury-Laced Skin Whitening Cosmetics

Professional dermatologists and toxics
activists have joined forces to boost efforts to bring the illegal trade in
mercury-containing skin whitening cosmetics to a close.

In an unprecedented move, the leaders of the Philippine Dermatological Society
(PDS) and the EcoWaste Coalition on Thursday morning signed a joint statement
to express support for intensified government action to end “the unlawful
dumping of mercury-added cosmetics into the domestic market.”

Dr. Daisy K. Ismael, President of the PDS and Sonia Mendoza, President of
the EcoWaste Coalition, said the illegal trade “continues to spread and persist
despite sustained efforts by the government, the health sector,  civil
society and the media to expose and put a stop to this wrongdoing.”

“While women of diverse socio-economic backgrounds use various cosmetics to
achieve flawless porcelain skin, poor women unduly suffer from the side effects
of using cheap but unregistered skin whitening products with banned ingredients
such as mercury,” they noted.

In line with the objective of the Minamata Convention on Mercury “to
protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic releases of
mercury and mercury compounds,” the PDS and the EcoWaste Coalition “called
upon all stakeholders to support intensified regulatory action by the Food and
Drugs Administration (FDA) against skin whitening cosmetics with no market
authorization and containing mercury and other hazardous chemicals as well as
biological contaminants.” 

They asked the FDA “to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law.”

They further “urge(d) all law enforcement agencies, particularly the Bureau of
Customs (BOC), National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National
Police, as well as local government units, to rally behind the FDA and carry
out effective and supportive measures to combat the illegal trade of
mercury-added cosmetics.” 

Specifically, they asked the BOC “to search and destroy these illegal cosmetics
at the ports of entry and duly charge the offenders,” adding that “efforts
should also be made by the BOC to identify the suppliers of these products in
the country of origin and work cooperatively with authorities in those
countries to restrict production and prevent cross border trade.”

Both groups also “urge(d) consumers to be on the alert against contraband
cosmetics with hidden mercury content that can be detrimental to the health of
users and non-users, noting that the adverse effects of mercury exposure are
subtle and increase over time.”

“For skin health and safety, we further appeal to consumers to patronize
registered cosmetics sold in legitimate retail outlets and to support early
skin disease detection and prevention through proper dermatological care,” they

“We implore all Filipinos to be wary of the dark side of whitening one’s skin
with mercury-added cosmetics, and to be happy and proud of our beautiful
natural brown skin complexion,” they stated.

Despite the health and environmental hazards these skin whitening products
pose, the groups noted the following lapses in their joint statement: “None
listed mercury as an active ingredient.  None provided any health warning
that mercury can enter the body through skin absorption, ingestion or
inhalation of the vapors, and that young children and pregnant women are
particularly sensitive to the toxic effects of mercury.  None warned that
mercury exposure can damage the kidneys, the brain and the central nervous
system and cause fetal abnormalities if used in pregnancy, and that the skin itself
can suffer from uneven pigmentation, rashes and scarring.  None cautioned
that children can ingest the mercury by coming into contact with the skin,
clothes and household items contaminated with mercury.” 

A market investigation conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition in 50 cities shows
that 316 of the  355 samples of unregistered skin whitening facial creams
exceeded the mercury limit of 1 ppm under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive.

Of 316 tainted samples, 287 had mercury  above  1,000 
ppm,  44  had  mercury above  5,000 and 19  had
mercury above 25,000, with  one  sample having 96,100 ppm of mercury.
Some of the samples with extremely high mercury concentrations would also
exceed the government’s toxicity limit of 0.1 milligram/liter (mg/l) and get
classified as hazardous chemical waste.

A follow-up vapor analysis on 25 of these samples shows that these illegal
cosmetics emit dangerous levels of mercury vapor from 35 micrograms per cubic
meter (ug/m3) to 260 ug/m3, way above the 1 ug/m3 “acceptable level”
for residential setting and also exceeding the 10 ug/m3 level at which the
recommended action by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
is “isolation of contamination from residents or evacuation of