Are the skin whitening products on store shelves safe for public consumption?
This is the question posed by the EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrol after finding some nicely-packaged skin lightening cream cosmetics in various retail outlets in Binondo, Ermita, Quiapo and Santa Cruz in Manila and in Guadalupe, Makati, last Saturday and Sunday (26-27 March).
To answer the question, the EcoWaste Coalition, a group campaigning for safe cosmetics, bought eight samples of these products and sent them today to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a specific request to test the items for mercury, a toxic metal, and hydroquinone, a toxic compound.
Information from the mercury handbook published by the International POPs Elimination Network, of which the EcoWaste Coalition is a member, indicates that mercury-added skin whitening products often contain mercury chloride and/or ammoniated mercury, which are both carcinogenic. Non-mercury skin lightening products often contain hydroquinone, which is also highly toxic.
The samples sent to FDA include Berglotus Spot Removing Cream, Hieng Hok Miraculous Whitening Dispel Spots Cream, Lamb Placenta Whitening and Anti-Aging Cream, Lan Mei Rou 12 Days Whitening and Speckle Removing Suit, LiliKi Whitening Night Cream, Miss Beauty Excellent Therapy Whitening Cream, Miss Beauty Magic Cream, and Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Cream.
Three of the samples were manufactured in Taiwan and two from Hong Kong. The other three samples have no information in English about their place of manufacture.
“Health Secretary Ona’s recent pronouncement of a ‘tougher, robust and more responsive’ food and drug regulatory agency prompted us into requesting the FDA to conduct laboratory analysis of these products for probable mercury and hydroquinone contents,” said Aileen Lucero, Safe Cosmetics Campaigner of the EcoWaste Coalition.
“Testing skin whitening products is one way of protecting consumers against real health threats from toxic substances,” she pointed out.
“This is a most concrete service that the FDA can do to protect vulnerable consumers against product hazards to health and safety," she added.
An examination of the outer packaging of the eight samples reveal varying degrees of compliance with the labelling requirements under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive of 2007, particularly on the full listing of ingredients and their corresponding weight or volume, the EcoWaste Coalition observed.
None of the samples indicate they contain or do not contain mercury or hydroquinone, the group also pointed out.
According to the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive, the following information should appear in the outer packaging of cosmetic products: product name and function, instructions on the use, full ingredient listing, country of manufacture, name and address of manufacturer or distributor, contents by weight or volume, batch number, product manufacturing or expiry date, and special precautions.
It will be recalled that the FDA in 2010 banned a total of 28 brands of skin lightening creams for containing excessive levels of mercury that can cause “imminent danger or injury” to consumers, according to the agency.