“Toxic Beauty” Parade Held in Manila vs Mercury-Laced Skin Whitening Cosmetics

(Photos by Manny Calonzo, Yhet Garcia)

A toxic watchdog today held a unique parade in the City of Manila in a fresh bid to drum up awareness among consumers and vendors about the ban on dangerous skin whitening products with mercury, a poison that is readily absorbed through the skin.

Members of the EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrol, together with government food and drug inspectors, took part in what has been dubbed as a “Toxic Beauty” parade from Binondo Church to Quiapo Church.

Leading the parade were “Ms. Toxic Beauty” and her court donning umbrella hats festooned with boxes of recalled skin bleaching products as “crowns,” and holding wooden sticks with skull and cross bones as “scepters.”

The event was inspired by two important books from UK and US, both of which have “Toxic Beauty” as titles, that reveal how chemical ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products can harm consumers.

Accompanied by youth drummers, the safe cosmetics advocates hopped from one Chinese drug store to another to notify vendors about the latest government directive banning skin lightening products for containing elevated levels of mercury.

They shouted “mercury cosmetics, no, no, no” as they walked through busy Ongpin and Carriedo Streets where dozens of Chinese drug stores are located.

“We braved the hot morning sun to tell formal as well as informal dealers that selling recalled mercury-tainted skin whitening products is both illegal and unethical,” said Aileen Lucero, Safe Cosmetics Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“We’ve also gone out of the streets to remind consumers to be extra careful with what they apply onto their skins as this may lead to serious ailments,” she explained.

“We need to know what is lurking within the cosmetics we buy and ask manufacturers to only use ingredients that have been proven safe in cosmetic formulations,” she added.

For her part, Dr. Bessie Antonio, President of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology (PSCOT) said: “Consumers beware: skin contact with mercury-added cosmetics can cause serious dermal problems, including discoloration, inflammation, itchiness and tiny bumps.”

Repeated applications of mercury-laced cosmetics, Dr. Antonio warned, “can eventually damage the brain and the kidneys.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week banned 23 more skin whitening cosmetics that “pose imminent danger or injury to the consuming public,” bringing to 50 the list of recalled products that were found to contain mercury beyond the regulatory limit of 1 part per million.

During the parade, food and drug regulators handed out copies of FDA Advisory 2011-012 signed by Director Suzette Lazo, warning that the importation, selling, or offering for sale of the recalled products is a violation of Republic Act 9711, the Food and Drug Administration Act of 2009.

The said advisory has received support from various groups, including the Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS), the only specialty society in dermatology recognized by the Philippine Medical Association.

In a statement, Dr. Ma. Teresita Gabriel, PDS President, said: “We laud the latest action by the FDA to notify and safeguard our consumers from sure harm resulting from mercury exposure in cosmetics. The PDS is one with the EcoWaste Coalition and FDA in promoting mercury-free cosmetics for the health and wellbeing of our people.”


Toxic Beauty books: