Chemical Safety Cosmetics Health and Safety Lifestyle Toxic Products

Mercury in Cosmetics: A Serious Threat to Women and Babies, Too

(Aspiring lawmakers urged to craft special law on adulterated and counterfeit cosmetics)

7 March 2019, Quezon City. The unabated sale of skin whitening cosmetics contaminated with mercury poses a serious threat to the health of Filipino women and children, including babies in the womb.

The EcoWaste Coalition, a waste and pollution watch group, cited this toxic threat to women’s and children’s health as the nation celebrates the International Women’s Day tomorrow, March 8.

“Health authorities, particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have made considerable efforts to curb the illegal sale of mercury contaminated cosmetics such as skin lightening or whitening facial creams,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Current efforts have not, however, been adequate to put an end to the continued proliferation of such dangerous products in the market. FDA-banned products like Jiaoli and S’Zitang from China are still being sold with impunity,” he noted.

“As we mark this special day for women, we urge national and local government agencies to strengthen their collaboration to stop this unlawful trade through vigorous and sustained law enforcement actions that will protect our women and children, including the unborn, from the harmful effects of mercury exposure,” he said.

“As prevailing laws and regulations, including fines and penalties for non-compliance, are insufficient to stop the sale of these dangerous products, we urge aspiring Senators and District Representatives to craft a special law on adulterated and counterfeit cosmetics like what Congress did to curb the spread of spurious medicines,” he suggested.

“Erring importers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers must be held accountable and brought before the bar to show zero tolerance for such illicit act,” he emphasized.

Mercury in skin whitening products inhibits the production of melanin pigment leading to a “fairer” skin tone. However, mercury can cause damage the nervous, immune and renal systems, and also cause skin discoloration, rashes, and scarring, as well as reduce dermal resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.

Mercury can also affect the endocrine and reproductive systems. Studies have 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,” Dizon said.

According to the report “Mercury in Women of Child-Bearing Age in 25 Countries published by the Biodiversity Research Institute and IPEN, a global NGO network for a toxics-free future that includes the EcoWaste Coalition, “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 products can also contaminate the environment, including the food chain, the EcoWaste Coalition warned.

Information from the World Health Organization indicates that “mercury in soaps, creams and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into wastewater. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and enters the food-chain as the highly toxic methylmercury in fish.”

To protect consumers against mercury in some skin whitening cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition urged Filipinos, especially women and girls, to take pride in our natural skin complexion.

“There is beauty and dignity in our ‘kayumangging kaligatan,’ so refrain from using skin bleaching, lightening or whitening products, particularly cosmetics that have not gone through formal notification or registration with the FDA and not guaranteed safe from mercury, hydroquinone and other harmful substances,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

The group also advised consumers to insist on their right to product information, including chemical ingredients comprising a product, and to reject products with zero or incomplete label or with non-English labeling information unless English translation is provided.