30 April 2023, Quezon City. Skin-lightening products banned by the health authorities for containing mercury and/or for lacking market authorization are openly sold in Caloocan City in clear defiance of national and global product safety laws and regulations.
“The continuing sale of chemical-based skin whiteners containing mercury, an extremely hazardous chemical not allowed in cosmetics that threatens public health, especially the health of women and even the unborn children, has to stop,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“It’s high time for our local government units (LGUs) to engage in an all-out campaign against these dangerous products, which are sold offline and online, and for them to encourage their constituents to love and embrace their natural skin tone as the simplest way to protect themselves from mercury exposure via cosmetics,” she said stressing “beauty has no skin tone.”
The group has been urging LGUs to adopt and enforce ordinances that will prohibit and penalize trade in proscribed mercury-containing cosmetics in their areas of jurisdiction in support of the global ban on cosmetics with mercury content above one part per million (ppm) such as skin-lightening products.
In the monitoring it conducted yesterday, the toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition found non-compliant skin-lightening cosmetics on display on store shelves of seven beauty product retailers operating inside or near popular shopping malls in Monumento.
Among the products being sold are Pakistan-made Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene and Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream, and Thailand-made 88 Total White Underarm Cream and at least three variants of Dr. Yanhee skin care cosmetic sets.
FDA Advisory No. 2017-289 had warned the public against the purchase and use of the said Goree products after finding them positive with mercury. Through Advisory No. 2021-1187, it cautioned consumers against the unauthorized 88 Total White Underarm Cream, warning “the use of such violative product may pose health risks to consumers.” The FDA has yet to issue an advisory again Dr. Yanhee and other Thai cosmetics that the EcoWaste Coalition reported to the agency in February 2023.
Chemical screenings conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition found mercury up to 58,400 ppm in Goree product samples. It also found 2,486 to 3,130 ppm mercury in the samples of 88 Total White Underarm Cream. The group also detected 8,600 to 19,200 ppm of mercury in some components of Dr. Yanhee products.
The EcoWaste Coalition said that mercury salts are added in some skin care cosmetics to inhibit the formation of the skin pigment melanin, which will initially result in lighter skin tone. However, the application of such products makes the skin blotchy, which in turn may entice the user to apply it more often in an attempt to even out the color.
As summed up in the FDA advisory: “Adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetic products include kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration, and scarring. Chronic use reduces the skin’s normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections. Other health effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.” The FDA further warned, “the transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopment deficits later in life.”
Republic Act No. 9711, or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Act, prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, promotion, and sale of health products, including cosmetics, without the proper authorization from the FDA.
The ASEAN Cosmetic Directive and the Minamata Convention on Mercury further prohibit cosmetics with mercury content above the trace amount limit of one part per million (ppm). The latter further directed a global phase-out on the manufacture, import, or export of such products in 2020.