While public authorities are hell-bent on flattening the curve of novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Philippines, private dealers of dangerous mercury-laced cosmetics seem to be taking advantage of the crisis as they ply their toxic goods online.
The watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition deplored the web-based trade of skin whitening cosmetics containing mercury, a toxic chemical that is banned in cosmetics, after detecting a proliferation of product advertisements in popular online shopping sites amid the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
“Online distributors of personal care products, particularly facial creams banned by the government for containing mercury, appear to be having a field day while the doors of discount malls and stores are closed due to the ECQ,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“We suspect these unscrupulous dealers are busy taking orders for delivery once the ECQ has been lifted by the authorities,” said Dizon.
The group pointed to the numerous third-party ads in Lazada, Shopee and Carousell for skin lightening cosmetics that are among those banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for lacking market authorization or for containing mercury.
Among the FDA-banned skin whitening cosmetics being sold in online shopping sites are Collagen Plus Vit E, Feique, Golden Pearl, Goree, Jiaoli and S’Zitang facial creams, the EcoWaste Coalition reported.
Republic Act 9711, or the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009, bans the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, offering for sale, distribution, transfer, non-consumer use, promotion, advertising, or sponsorship of any health products without the proper authorization from the FDA, while the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive prohibits mercury and its compounds in the composition of cosmetic products.
For the health and safety of their customers, the EcoWaste Coalition appealed to online shopping platforms to take down ads for FDA-banned skin whitening cosmetics and for them to adopt stringent policies and procedures that will bar the sale of unauthorized cosmetics, particularly those containing harmful ingredients such as mercury.
“The decisive action by online shopping platforms to remove these unlawful cosmetics from their sites will help in advancing the country’s National Action Plan for the Phase-Out of Mercury-Added Products and the Management of the Associated Mercury-Containing Wastes in line with the Minamata Convention,” Dizon pointed out.
The said mercury treaty, which the Philippine government signed in 2013 but has yet to ratify, sets a global phase-out by 2020 of skin whitening cosmetics, including creams, lotions and soaps, with mercury above 1 part per million (ppm).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include: 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.”
Studies have also shown that increased mercury levels in the body have been linked with hormonal and menstrual disorders, infertility and miscarriage.
“Babies in the womb are not spared as mercury can cross the placenta during pregnancy and affect the developing brain and nervous system causing cognitive development problems. Fetuses, infants and young children are susceptible to mercury toxicity,” the EcoWaste Coalition warned.
I. Relevant FDA and WHO Documents
II. Examples of Lazada, Shopee and Carousell advertisements for mercury-laced skin whitening cosmetics that are among those banned by the FDA (search words: “beauty cream,” “skin whitening cream,” and product names):