To Protect Women’s Health: EcoWaste Coalition Calls for Crack Down on Mercury-Laced Skin Lightening Products

As the International Women’s Day is observed today, a toxics watchdog group urged the authorities to clamp down on importers, distributors and retailers of skin lightening products containing mercury, a highly hazardous chemical banned in cosmetic formulations.

The EcoWaste Coalition’s latest push for law enforcement action followed a recent ban on eight skin fairness cosmetics from Pakistan by the government of Bangladesh, two of which — Golden Pearl Beauty Cream and Goree Beauty Cream — are also banned in the Philippines but still sold locally by unscrupulous traders.

“Despite the public health warnings issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the illegal importation and sale of these mercury-tainted skin lightening creams from Pakistan continues, posing a serious health risk, particularly for women and girls who apply them onto their face in the hope of whitening their skin,” noted Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Toxic mercury accumulates in the body and can damage the kidneys, central nervous system and the skin itself. Exposure to mercury also increases the risk of reproductive disorders among women of childbearing age, which may also affect the unborn child,” he warned.

To prove their claim, the group bought samples of the banned Golden Pearl and Goree products from retailers at popular bargain malls in Pasay City for P200 and P250, respectively. The FDA banned the former in 2014 and the latter in 2017 for containing mercury above the maximum limit of one part per million (ppm) as per the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

The group then screened the samples bought for mercury using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device. Golden Pearl was found to be contaminated with 10,700 ppm of mercury, while Goree had 24,000 ppm.

“To stop the flow of mercury-containing cosmetics into the country and to protect women’s health, we call upon the authorities to support a ‘brown is beautiful’ advocacy and to wage a sustained crackdown against importers, distributors and retailers of such proscribed products, including those who sell these health-damaging items in online shopping sites,” Dizon said.

“As these products are unlawfully sold in major cities and municipalities, the campaign should be undertaken nationwide with the essential participation of local government, health and police units, the media and the civil society,” he said.

Sustained public awareness and law enforcement campaign will support the implementation of the government’s National Action Plan for the Phase-Out of Mercury-Added Products and the Management of Associated Mercury-Containing Wastes adopted in June 2019, Dizon pointed out.

The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) last March 2 announced it has detected high levels of mercury and/or hydroquinone in eight out of 13 skin fairness creams from Pakistan that are sold in the market and online, warning importers, shop owners and online sellers of punitive measures for those who will defy the ban.

Mercury-containing skin lightening products are hazardous to health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and as a result have been banned in many countries.

“Even in some countries where such products have been banned, they are still advertised and available to consumers via the Internet and other means,” the WHO said.

According to WHO: “To stop the manufacture, import and export of skin lightening products in line with the Minamata Convention, regulatory actions by governments are needed – including training of customs agents – as well as major media and advocacy campaign.”