13 February 2020, Quezon City. “Accept, love and be proud of your natural skin color.”
The proliferation of cosmetics containing banned skin whitening agents prompted the EcoWaste Coalition, a toxics watchdog group, to exhort Filipinos, especially women and girls, to embrace and take pride in their natural skin tone.
The group’s renewed pitch for “brown is beautiful” came on the heels of successive advisories issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning consumers against the purchase and use of cosmetics containing mercury, hydroquinone and/or tretinoin, which are not allowed to be part of a cosmetic product as per Annex II Part 1 of the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
Additionally, the FDA has warned the public about the side effects of using injectable lightening agents such as glutathione, which can have toxic effects on the liver, kidneys and the nervous system.
“We need not poison our bodies and the environment with mercury and other harmful pigment inhibiting agents in our desire to have a lighter skin complexion,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Instead of altering your natural skin color, why not accept, love and be proud of what you have?” he asked, emphasizing “there is no shame in brown or black skin.”
“If whitening one’s skin is really desired, please be careful on how you will do it. Better seek the advice of licensed dermatologists on proper skincare and on skin disease prevention, detection, and treatment,” he added.
The group noted the rash of cosmetics being flagged by FDA due to the presence of banned ingredients such as mercury, hydroquinone and/or tretinoin, including those banned by other ASEAN member states.
To date, the FDA has prohibited the sale of over 135 mercury-containing skin whitening creams, which are mostly imported from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Pakistan.
The FDA has likewise banned several skincare products such as facial astringent, toner and cream containing hydroquinone and/or tretinoin, many of which are locally manufactured.
“Adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration and scarring, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the FDA, “hydroquinone is no longer allowed to be part of a cosmetic product and is classified as a drug product in the Philippines because of its multiple serious adverse effects (i.e. sensitivity to light, skin redness and permanent skin discoloration) when used indiscriminately.”
As per the FDA, “products containing hydroquinone and/or tretinoin (retinoic acid) shall be classified as a home remedy, over-the-counter, or prescription drug depending on the amount present as per DOH Administrative Order No. 13, series of 1999.”
The US-based Campaign for Safe Cosmetics Cancer has identified “cancer, organ system toxicity and respiratory tract irritation” among the health concerns associated with the use of hydroquinone in skin lighteners, facial and skin cleansers, facial moisturizers, hair conditioners, and fingernail coating products.