Novaliches Retailers Flout Ban on Mercury-Tainted Cosmetics (11 of 12 Samples Tested with Excessive Mercury up to 12,600 ppm)

Five retail outlets in the booming business hub of Novaliches District were found to be selling 11 brands of mercury-laden skin whitening products in blatant disobedience of the law.

In test buys conducted over the past weekend, the EcoWaste Coalition was able to buy a dozen of products costing from P90 to P285 each from beauty, herbal and general merchandise shops located inside the Novaliches Plaza Mall (popularly known as the Nova Mall) and Susano Complex and in one store along Gen. Luis St., near Susano Road.

“This is by far our most toxic sighting in Quezon City, which clearly shows that the unlawful trade in mercury-laced cosmetics goes unabated despite the government’s ban,” observed Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“We therefore appeal to our cosmetics regulators and law enforcers to take swift action against erring retailers and their suppliers to protect susceptible consumers from being exposed to these dangerous goods,” she said.

Using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) chemicals analyzer, the toxics watchdog detected mercury in 11 of the samples in the range of 977 parts per million (ppm) to 12,600 ppm, way above the allowable limit of 1 ppm set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

None of the tainted products listed mercury as a product ingredient, and none provided complete product information as required under the labeling and fair packaging provisions of R.A. 7394 or the Consumer Act of the Philippines.

The names of the 11 mercury-laden skin whitening products on sale in Novaliches and their mercury contents are as follows:

1. Bihuayn Whitening Cream (Day), 12,600 ppm
2. Miss Beauty Magic Cream, 10,500 ppm
3. S’Zitang, 8,652 ppm
4. Yudantang Green Cucumber & Ginseng 6-Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream, 7,821 ppm
5. Jiaoli Miraculous Cream, 5,627 ppm
6. Jiaoli 7-Days Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set, 5,376 ppm
7. Beauty Girl Ginseng & Green Cucumber 10-Days Double Whitening Speckles Removed Essence, 4,813 ppm
8. Jiaoli 10-Days Eliminating Freckle Day and Night Set, 4167 ppm
9. Miss Beauty Excellent Therapy Whitening Cream, 2,144 ppm
10. JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, 1,058 ppm
11. Jiaoli Huichusu 10-Days Whitening Speckles Removal Cream, 977 ppm

All the Jiaoli products, along with JJJ and S’Zitang were ordered recalled by the FDA in 2010 and the Miss Beauty products and Yudantang were banned in 2011, while Bihuayn has yet to be withdrawn from the market, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“As a precautionary measure, consumers should stop using improperly labeled and unregistered facial creams to lighten the skin tone, prevent acne, remove freckles or erase age marks as these may contain mercury and other bacterial or chemical contaminants,” said toxicologist Dr. Bessie Antonio of the East Avenue Medical Center.

“Beware: the reckless use of unsafe cosmetics will not be pretty,” added Antonio who is also the Vice-President of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology.

According to a Health Alert issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), “inorganic mercury in face cream is absorbed following application to the skin and toxic levels in the body can develop gradually with prolonged use. The target organs for toxic effects are the central nervous system and kidneys.”

The signs and symptoms of mild to moderate toxicity due to exposure to inorganic mercury in skin lightening products, the CDPH said, may include nervousness and irritability, difficulty with concentration, headache, tremors, memory loss, depression, insomnia, weight loss, fatigue, numbness or tingling in hands, feet, or around the lips.

As advised by the CDPH, “any face cream product that is suspected to contain mercury must be disposed of as household hazardous waste, labeled “contains mercury,” placed in a sealed plastic bag, and disposed of at local household hazardous waste collection facilities.”