"Ugly 12" mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics (above); mercury-laced but not yet banned: Jiachuntang Ban Gan Jing Qu Ban Shuang and Xuemeiting (below).
An environmental and health watch group on chemicals and wastes urged the new government to go after the smugglers of dangerous goods, particularly cosmetics and personal care products containing toxic mercury.
The EcoWaste Coalition prodded President Rodrigo Duterte and Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial to intensify government enforcement activities led by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to turn the tide against contraband beauty products that have flooded the domestic market.
At the same time, the group requested the Duterte government to work for the immediate ratification of the Minamata Convention of Mercury, which, among other things, seeks to phase out or phase down mercury-containing products to protect human health and the environment.
The appeal came on the heels of the group’s discovery on Sunday, July 3, of 12 imported skin lightening or whitening creams with outrageous levels of mercury up to 41,000 parts per million (ppm), way above the 1 ppm limit under the ASEAN Cosmetics Directive.
Dubbed as the “Ugly 12,” these toxic cosmetics, which were not notified with the FDA, originated mainly from mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan and sold by Chinese pharmacies and cosmetics retailers in Binondo, Divisoria, Sta. Cruz and Quiapo, Manila from P60 to P180 each.
“Notwithstanding the repeated warnings from the FDA against their importation and subsequent sale, we still find mercury-laden skin whitening creams in store shelves, particularly in Chinese drug stores,” lamented Aileen Lucero, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“In fact, 10 of these 12 non-compliant cosmetics were among those already banned by the FDA since 2010 for posing imminent danger or injury to consumers due to their excessively high mercury content,” she said.
To date, the FDA has banned 135 mercury-containing skin whitening creams, 79 of which were discovered by the EcoWaste Coalition during periodic test buys as part of the group’s campaign against mercury pollution.
“Unscrupulous traders continue to prey on consumers, particularly women, who need products within their means to lighten their skin tone, erase freckles or get rid of acne,” she noted.
“We urge the new government to relentlessly go after the smugglers and dealers of these dangerous cosmetics to prevent mercury poisoning among users and even non-users,” she added.
“We specifically call upon the customs, police and local government authorities, traders and consumers to support the FDA to end this unlawful trade of mercury-added cosmetics once and for all,” she emphasized.
In the meantime, the EcoWaste Coalition reminded consumers to be cautious when buying or using skin whitening cosmetics, stressing that the easiest way for consumers to avoid mercury exposure is to accept their natural skin tone and to shun cosmetics of unknown composition or from suspicious sources.
The group warned that the use of the following “Ugly 12” mercury-laden cosmetics products can lead to serious adverse reactions and those using them should stop right away and see a doctor if feeling sick or in doubt: Aichun Beauty Pawpaw Whitening and Freckle Remover, Erna Whitening Cream, Gemli Glutathione Hydrolyzed Collagen Whitening and Anti-Aging, JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, Jiachuntang Ban Gan Jing Qu Ban Shuang, Jiaoli 10-Day Eliminating Freckle Day and Night Set, Jiaoli Miraculous Cream, S’zitang, Yangoian Fashion Care Skin Strong Whitening and Spot Removing Package, Women of Flower Whitening and Speckle Removing A and B Series, Xuemeiting and Yu Dan Tang 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream (Ginseng & Green Cucumber).
According to the FDA, “there have been cases of adverse health effects brought about by highly toxic mercury in cosmetic products, such as kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring.”
The agency has warned that “chronic use reduces the skin's normal resistance against bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.”
“The transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopment deficits later in life,” it said.
Mercury content of the “Ugly 12” as per X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Screening Conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition:Yu Dan Tang 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream (Ginseng & Green Cucumber), 41,000 ppm
Erna Whitening Cream, 4,911 ppmJiachuntang Ban Gan Jing Qu Ban Shuang, 3,347 ppmWomen of Flower Whitening and Speckle Removing A and B Series, 3,017 ppm
Jiaoli Miraculous Cream, 2,859 ppm
S’zitang, 2,812 ppm
Jiaoli 10-Day Eliminating Freckle Day and Night Set, 2,678 ppm
Yangoian Fashion Care Skin Strong Whitening and Spot Removing Package, 1,334 ppm
Gemli Glutathione Hydrolyzed Collagen Whitening and Anti-Aging, 916 ppm
JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, 557 ppm
Xuemeiting , 329 ppm
Aichun Beauty Pawpaw Whitening and Freckle Remover, 323 ppm