Advocacy Cosmetics Fashion Toxic Products

Group Urges DOH Region 10 to Crack Down on Illegal Sale of Mercury-Tainted Skin Whitening Cosmetics

The EcoWaste Coalition has appealed to the Department of Health (DOH) in Region 10 to initiate a crackdown on the unlawful sale of dangerous skin lightening cosmetics laden with mercury, a highly toxic chemical, that are defiantly sold in Cagayan de Oro City (CDO).

The non-profit environmental and health group based in Quezon City notified DOH Regional Director Dr. Nimfa B. Torrizo through an e-mail last Saturday about the unrestrained sale of skin whitening creams in CDO that are among those already banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) due to their high mercury content.

The same  letter was also furnished to the offices of DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III, FDA Director General Nela Charade Puno, and FDA CCRR Director Ana Trinidad Rivera.

To protect consumers from being harmed by mercury in cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition advised  DOH-Region 10 to take immediate action to stop the all-out sale of mercury-contaminated skin whitening products in CDO.

“We urge your office to conduct rapid post-market surveillance in CDO and other major cities in Northern Mindanao and to prosecute the violators to the full extent of the law, including padlocking stores caught in flagrante delicto,” wrote Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

A team from the EcoWaste Coalition was in CDO last week for the historic meeting hosted by the Bureau of Customs-Region 10 to discuss the repatriation of the 6,500 tons of mixed garbage stranded in Tagoloan to its origin in Pyeongtaek City in South Korea.

“Our team then took the opportunity to conduct a quick market investigation to determine if skin whitening cosmetics, particularly facial creams banned by the FDA, are sold in CDO,” Dizon said.

“Much to our shock, we found several imported skin whitening cosmetics banned by the FDA openly and unashamedly being sold by retailers engaged in the sale of beauty and herbal products, as well as Chinese medicines, especially in Cogon,” he said.

The group bought 18 pieces of banned Collagen Plus Vit E, Erna, JJJ, Jiaoli, S’Zitang and Xinjiaoli skin whitening creams, costing P80 to P300 each, from nine stores located in Cogon, Divisoria and Lapasan.

Upon the team’s return to Manila, the products were screened for mercury using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) chemicals analyzer.

All 18 products, illegally imported from China and Indonesia, were found contaminated with mercury above the allowable limit of 1 ppm.  Collagen Plus Vit E had the highest concentration of mercury at 6,020 ppm.

According to the FDA:  “adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetics products include kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring,” adding that “chronic use reduces the skin’s normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections.”

Other health effects of mercury exposure through the use of skin whitening cosmetics include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy. “The transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopment deficits later in life,” the FDA said.

“To protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic releases of mercury and mercury compounds,” governments, including the Philippines, signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in October 2013.

This treaty, among other provisions, has set a global phase-out target by 2020 for cosmetics, including skin lightening creams and soaps, with mercury content above 1 ppm.