MANILA – An environmental watchdog group has advised Filipino women to shun cosmetics laden with toxic mercury ahead of the observance of the International Women’s Day on Tuesday and the seventh session of the intergovernmental negotiating committee on mercury (INC7) on March 10-15.
The EcoWaste Coalition rang the alarm bell after procuring imported skin lightening creams with dangerous concentrations of mercury, a poisonous substance, way above the 1 part per million (ppm) limit under the Cosmetics Directive of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“We advise women and girls to be cautious when using skin lightening cosmetics, especially smuggled goods of dubious quality, that may contain health-damaging ingredients such as mercury,” said Aileen Lucero, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the inorganic mercury contained in some skin whitening products can cause kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in dermal resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.
“Pregnant women are particularly sensitive to the injurious effects of mercury and exposure to this poison during pregnancy may increase the risk of brain damage and birth defects for the child in the womb,” Lucero pointed out.
In test buys conducted from March 4-5 in Manila and Quezon Cities, the group’s AlerToxic Patrol bought 20 different brands of facial creams that are supposed to brighten the skin, even out the skin tone, and get rid of freckles, acne and other skin problems.
Costing PHP50-P230 each, the items were obtained mostly from Chinese drug stores.
Ten of these 20 samples were among those already banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for containing violative levels of mercury and should have been removed from the market.
Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the group was able to detect and measure mercury in these 10 samples in the range of 1,054 to 62,200 ppm.
The samples with the highest mercury levels were Yu Dan Tang 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream (Ginseng & Green Cucumber) with 62,200 ppm; Beauty Girl 6-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream (Egg White & Tomato), 35,500 ppm; Yu Dan Tang 6-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream (Green Cucumber & Ginseng), 30, 100 ppm; Jiaoli Miraculous Cream, 3,079 ppm; and S’zitang 10-Day Whitening & Spot Day Night Set with 2,534 ppm.
Completing the list were Yangqian Fashion Care Skin Strong Whitening & Spot Removing Package with 2,362 ppm; Gemli Glutathione Grapeseed Extract Whitening & Anti-Aging, 2,341 ppm; Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set, 2,340 ppm; Gakadi, 1,888 ppm; and Lan Mei Rou 12-Day Whitening and Speckle Removing Suit with 1,054 ppm.
In addition, the group found inconclusive trace amounts of mercury in the other samples, except for Jiachuntang Ban Gan Jing Qu Ban Shuang, which has a high mercury content of 3,802 ppm. Jiachuntang is not yet banned by the FDA.
Aside from Jiachuntang, the EcoWaste Coalition will submit the following unregistered products to the FDA for confirmatory analysis: AS Skin Natural Beauty Lanolin Cream with Vitamin E; De Monto Lanolin Cream with Vitamin E & Collagen; Flowerone Elastic Whitening Tender Cream ; Nacos Lanolin Cream with Vitamin E & Collagen; Pearl Whiten Beautiful ; Queen Pientzehuang Pearl Cream; RLY Repairing Eke Water Cream ; Ronglaiya Professional Pure Golden; and Xinfumanlingshuang Anti-Acne and Renewal Cream.
A bigger market investigation in 50 cities conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition in 2015 found mercury up to 96,100 ppm in 316 of 355 samples of unregistered skin whitening facial creams from overseas, mostly from China and Taiwan.
“As the dumping of mercury-tainted skin lightening products goes on unabated, we urge our health regulators, customs inspectors and local government authorities to tighten noose on cosmetics smugglers,” Lucero emphasized.
“Concerned citizens who have any information on the importation, distribution and sale of contraband cosmetics should come forward and help the FDA and other law enforcement agencies,” she said.
“We also hope that those running for elective national and local posts will address this threat to public health and the environment in their campaign platforms,” she said.
“For the health of our women and children, we need to act decisively as a nation to stop the dumping of poison cosmetics into our ports, markets and households,” she stressed.
The group further emphasized the need for the government to initiate a mechanism where the seized or returned mercury-laced cosmetics can be sent for environmentally sound storage and disposal.