EcoWaste Coalition Highlights Women's Right to Safe Cosmetics, Assails "Cosmetoxics" in the Market

A waste and pollution watchdog has come to the defense of Filipino women’s right to safe cosmetics as it deplored the “cosmetoxics’ that have seeped into the domestic market.

Through its Task Force on Chemical Safety, the EcoWaste Coalition lamented the rampant sale of “cosmetoxics,” a term coined by the waste and pollution watchdog to describe cosmetics loaded with toxic substances.

In a statement issued ahead of the International Women’s Day, the group expressed concern over the “cosmetics explosion” as can be seen from the brisk sales of mostly imported beauty products in key commercial hubs in the city of Manila, some of which may have not complied with the government’s registration, quality and safety requirements.

Ocular inspection by the group’s AlerToxic Patrol of Manila shops in Binondo, Divisoria, Quiapo and Sta. Cruz districts that sell beauty aids, health supplements and Chinese medicines showed the availability of a wide range of cosmetics for almost any application imaginable, including skin lightening cream, armpit whitening cream, hip massage cream, bikini line cream, slimming cream, breast enlarging cream, breast lifting cream and even a cream that promises to  make the mammary areola (aka nipple) “pink and bright.”

Other common beauty and personal care products for women include body, facial and hand soap, vaginal wash, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, mousse, spray, wax or coat, toothpaste, mouthwash, body and skin lotion, sunscreen, blush, powder, concealer, mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, eye brow pencil, make up remover, lip gloss, lip liner, lip stick, deodorant, cuticle and callus remover, nail polish, nail polish remover, perfume, acne, pimple and wrinkle treatment, eye, nose and facial mask, and a lot more, the EcoWaste Coalition said. 

“Trade globalization has placed this huge range of cosmetics at consumers’ fingertips.  But, are these products really safe for consumers, especially for our women and youth?  Our consumers deserve access to nothing less than safe products,” asked Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

A chemicals analysis by the EcoWaste Coalition of 60 beauty products last month detected lead and mercury, both of which are potent neurotoxins, in 44 samples of eyeshadows, lipsticks and skin whitening creams.

Using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the EcoWaste Coalition found:

a. 5 of 33 lipsticks had lead up to 11,600 ppm (a Mengdu Express 3 in 1, No. 5)
b. 12 of 33 lipsticks had mercury up to 182 ppm (a MAC No. A19)
c. 7 of 22 eyeshadows had lead up to 4,028 ppm (a Kiss Beauty 20 Colors Eyeshadow and 2 Colors Blusher)
d. 19 of 22 eyeshadows had mercury up to 88 ppm (an ADS Fashion Color)
e. 5 of the 5 skin whitening creams had mercury up to 16,000 ppm (a Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Cream)

The limits for lead and mercury under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive are 20 parts per million (ppm) and 1 ppm, respectively.

“For the health and well-being of our women and youth, we urge cosmetics manufacturers here and abroad to produce non-hazardous cosmetics and to only use chemicals that have undergone full safety assessment,” Lucero said.

As reported by the US Cosmetics Ingredients Review panel, less than 20% of chemicals ingredients in cosmetics have been assessed for safety, or 1,594 chemicals out of some 12,500 chemicals used by the cosmetics and personal care products industry.

Specifically, Lucero asked cosmetics manufacturers to:
1. Eliminate dangerous chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products.
2. Respect consumer’s right to know by providing complete and truthful labeling information.
3. Provide hazard labeling for products containing ingredients linked to cancer and other major health issues.

The EcoWaste Coalition urged both cosmetics producers and consumers to support the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its efforts to rid the market of perilous products.  It also suggested that the FDA conducts a wider sampling of cosmetics in the market and to swiftly recall and confiscate non-compliant products with the help of other national and local government offices.

Exposure to lead, a brain-damaging chemical linked to learning, language and behavioral disorders, may cause early onset or delays in puberty onset in girls, menstrual abnormalities, reduced fertility, pregnancy problems and hormonal irregularities.

On the other hand, exposure to mercury in cosmetics may result to skin discoloration, rashes and scarring and decrease skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. WHO has warned that direct and prolonged exposure through the skin during repeated applications can harm the kidneys and nervous system, including the brain.

To prevent exposure to lead, mercury and other harmful substances, the EcoWaste Coalition reminded  cosmetics consumers to:

1. Critically read the product label and refrain from buying unlabeled or improperly labeled cosmetics and those not duly registered with the FDA.
2. Avoid cosmetics with chemical ingredients that are hard to spell, pronounce and understand.
3. Demand safe products and be conscious of the health costs of “beauty.”

The efforts of the EcoWaste Coalition to protect consumers from “cosmetoxics” have not gone unnoticed.

Last year in November, the FDA came out with an expanded list of 71 banned mercury-containing skin whitening creams, including 20 brands tested and exposed by the EcoWaste Coalition. 

Prior to this, Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Manny Villar filed Senate Resolutions 866 and 310, respectively, calling for an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the need to enforce and tighten the ban on mercury-laden cosmetics that pose health risks to consumers.

Senator Santiago also filed Senate Resolution 749 citing the need “to introduce and implement toxic reduction strategies in cosmetics and other consumer products.”

The EcoWaste Coalition is a national network of more than 150 public interest groups pursuing sustainable and just solutions to waste, climate change and chemical issues towards the envisioned Zero Waste 2020 goal.