18 June 2014

EcoWaste Coalition Blasts Illegal Sale of Mercury-Laden Skin Cosmetics in Cebu City

Is Cebu City now the toxic whitening cosmetics capital of the Philippines?

The EcoWaste Coalition, a watchdog group against mercury in consumer products, raised the specter after finding imported, mercury-laden skin lightening creams without market authorization that are openly sold in the city.

“The open display and sale of these mercury-tainted skin cosmetics gives a clear indication that such dangerous products are sold with impunity in Cebu City,” observed Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.

“As the major commercial hub in Central Visayas, we fear that Cebu City may be unwittingly being dragged into such unlawful trade of mercury-laced cosmetics that can pose serious health risks to consumers and the environment,” he pointed out. 

In a report to Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, Councilors Nida Cabrera, Alvin Dizon and Lea Japson and Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) Director Kenneth Hartigan Go, the group expressed serious concern about the unchecked sale of unauthorized skin whitening cosmetics
that may expose uninformed consumers to dangerous levels of mercury, a highly toxic chemical.

The group urged the Cebu City Government, in collaboration with the Cebu City Council, the FDA and the police authorities, to take immediate action to stop the illegal sale of mercury-containing cosmetics in Cebu City, as well as other cosmetics and personal care products with no market authorization from the FDA.

In test buys conducted by the group on June 15 and 16, 2014, the group managed to procure 13 imported brands of skin whitening cosmetics from 999 General Merchandise (Colon St. cor. Osmeña Blvd.), 138 Mall (Colon St.), Yong Jiang General Pharmacy (Zamora St.) and Worldwide Pharmacy (Magallanes St.).

Out of these 13 products, 11 were found to contain elevated levels of mercury ranging from 3,218 parts per million (ppm) to 13,900 ppm, way above the ASEAN threshold limit of 1 ppm for mercury in cosmetics.  

A handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device was used to screen the products for mercury.   

Among the 11  products found contaminated with high levels of mercury were: , 1) Erna Whitening Cream,  2) Flower Woman 7-Day Whitening & Spot Day and Night Cream Set, 3) Huayuenong 12-Day Whitening & Speckle Removing Wrecking Set, 4 ) Jiaoli Huichusu Intensive Whitening, Sunscreen and Spots Removing Set,  5) Jiaoli Professional Herbs Essence Whitening AB Set, 6) Jiaoli Speckle Dispelling & Whitening Cream4), 7)  Mifton, 8)  S’Zitang (single jar), 9)  S’Zitang 7-Day Specific Whitening & Spot A B Set, 10) S’Zitang  Yang Bai Su, and 11) Women of Flower 7-Day Effective Speckle Removing Series.
The other two samples had no detectable levels of mercury based on the XRF screening, but made false product claims in violation of the Consumer Act of the Philippines and the Food and Drugs Administration Act.   According to their labels, Jiaoli Extra Pearl Facial Cream is “BFAD approved,” while Top-Gel Rose Oil Extra Pearl Cream is supposedly registered with “BFAD.”   BFAD (Bureau of Food and Drugs) is the old name of the FDA.

Like the 11 other products, the two items are not listed on the FDA database of notified cosmetics.   According to the FDA, “all cosmetic products that do not pass the FDA safety and quality evaluation do not comply with the requirements of the Code of Good Manufacturing Practice.”

Also, some of the products in question are already banned by the FDA for containing injurious amounts of mercury or for lack of required market notification.  These are 1) Erna Whitening Cream,  2) Flower Woman 7-Day Whitening & Spot Day and Night Set Cream, 3) Huayuenong 12-Day Whitening & Speckle Removing Wrecking Set, 4) Jiaoli Speckle Dispelling & Whitening Cream and  5) S’Zitang. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.  Mercury in skin lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to  bacterial and fungal infections.  Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.”

“Mercury in soaps, creams and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into  wastewater. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and  enters the food-chain as the highly toxic methylmercury in fish. Pregnant women who  consume fish containing methylmercury transfer the mercury to their fetuses, which can  later result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children,” the WHO further said.





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