A non-profit advocacy group for public health and the environment has denounced the unlawful sale of unregistered skin whitening products in Quiapo, Manila that health authorities in the Philippines and neighboring countries have already banned for containing mercury, a highly toxic substance.
The EcoWaste Coalition criticized retailers for selling such products in violation of the national and regional ban on cosmetics laden with mercury exceeding the trace amount limit of one part per million (ppm) under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD).
“The brazen disregard by unscrupulous traders of the ACD and related public health warnings issued by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Philippines and its counterpart agencies in ASEAN countries is putting the health of consumers at risk of mercury exposure,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“We call upon the Manila Health Department to take immediate action to bring the sale of mercury -laced cosmetics in the city to a complete halt,” he added.
The group’s test purchases last Thursday, January 24, in Quiapo, Manila netted six imported skin whitening products banned by cosmetics regulators in Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Singapore for containing mercury, a substance not allowed as ingredient in cosmetic products as per the ACD.
Mercury concentrations in the range of 1,246 to 24,100 ppm were detected in Glow Glowing 5 in 1 Beauty Skin, Feique Herbal Extract Whitening Anti-Freckle Set, Goree Day & Night Whitening Cream, Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream, Temulawak Day & Night Beauty Whitening Cream, and Erna Whitening Cream that the group purchased for P60 to P1,700 each and screened for mercury using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device.
A component of the Glow Glowing 5 in 1 Beauty Skin made in Malaysia, which promises a “white, fluffy, smooth (skin) as early as 7 days,” was found loaded with mercury at 24,100 ppm . Singapore in 2017 banned a 4 in 1 variant of this product for containing mercury above the threshold by more than 25,000 times. Unlike the other items, this product is pricey at P1,700 per set.
A Feique Herbal Extract Whitening Anti-Freckle Set banned by the FDA since 2014 had 23,300 ppm of mercury. Manufactured in China, this product, which sells for P150 per set, was among the seven products submitted in 2014 by the EcoWaste Coalition to the FDA for confirmatory mercury analysis and was later banned.
A product from Pakistan called Goree Day & Night Whitening Cream was found contaminated with 18,800 ppm of mercury. Sold for P350, Goree was banned by the FDA in 2017. Health authorities in Brunei and Singapore, as well as countries in Europe, have likewise banned its sale.
Banned by the FDA since 2015, Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream had 8,264 ppm of mercury. This product costing P200 is also banned in Indonesia, its country of origin.
Temulawak Day & Night Beauty Whitening Cream bought for P250 tested with 7,980 ppm of mercury. This product from Malaysia is banned in Brunei and Myanmar.
Erna Whitening Cream in tiny jar costing P60 had 1,246 ppm of mercury. Erna, along with 10 other products, were submitted by the EcoWaste Coalition to the FDA in 2013 for mercury content analysis, which the agency subsequently banned.
The Philippine FDA has yet to impose a ban on Glow Glowing and Temulawak skincare products.
According to health experts, the regular application of mercury-laced skin creams could lead to skin blotching, discoloration and rash. Chronic exposure to mercury in cosmetics products, which can be absorbed through the skin, may also cause toxic effects to the kidneys, digestive and the nervous system resulting to organ damage.
The report “Mercury in Women of Child-Bearing Age in 25 Countries,” published by Biodiversity Research Institute and IPEN (a global civil society network for a toxics-free future that includes the EcoWaste Coalition), warned “the harmful effects that can be passed from the mother to the fetus when the mother’s mercury levels exceed 1 ppm include neurological impairment, IQ loss, and damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system.”
Mercury in skin whitening creams and other cosmetics is eventually discharged into wastewater contaminating the marine environment and consequently the food chain.