The illegal sale of imported skin whitening products containing mercury, a potent poison, remains a threat to human health and the environment, a watch group on toxic chemicals warned on Tuesday.
The EcoWaste Coalition renewed its warning against mercury in unregistered facial whitening and freckle removing creams after finding the substance in 10 imported products above the regulatory limit of one part per million (ppm).
One of the products, Yu Dan Tang Ginseng & Green Cucumber 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream from Taiwan, was found to contain mercury 38,900 times beyond the allowable limit of 1 ppm.
“The smuggling of mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics persists despite the combined efforts by the government and the civil society to expose and stop such illegal trade,” observed Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“The persistence of the problem underscores an urgent need for the Duterte administration to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which, among other things, bans the production, export and import of skin lightening cosmetics with mercury above 1 ppm,” he emphasized.
“Ratifying the treaty that the Philippines signed in 2013 could pave the way for strengthened policies, expanded programs and increased collaborations to protect the people's health and the environment from mercury emissions and releases. We are one with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in pushing for the treaty ratification," he said.
“Reducing, if not removing, mercury in products such as cosmetics, batteries, fluorescent lamps, medical devices, antiseptics and others, will help in lessening mercury in waste,” he pointed out, adding that “it is important to ensure sound waste management, including safe storage and disposal, to avoid mercury-containing products from contaminating humans such as waste workers and the surroundings.”
To raise consumer awareness about the hazards of mercury in cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition purchased 13 different skin whitening creams costing P60 to P300 each in Divisoria and Quiapo, Manila on July 22 and 23, and screened them for mercury using an X-Ray Fluorescence device.
Among the 10 products found to contain excessive concentrations of mercury were:
Yu Dan Tang Ginseng & Green Cucumber 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream (with 38,900 ppm), Parley Herbal Beauty Cream (20,500 ppm), Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream (11,700 ppm), Golden Pearl Beauty Cream (9,434 ppm), Erna Whitening Cream (4,531 ppm), Jiaoli Miraculous Cream (2,766 ppm), S’Zitang 10-Day Whitening & Spot Day Night Set (2,710 ppm), S’Zitang 7-Day Specific Whitening & Spot AB Set (2,640 ppm), Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set (2,184 ppm), and Temulawak Day & Night Beauty Whitening Cream (1,128 ppm).
While negative for mercury as per XRF screening, Aichun Beauty Carrot Natural Whitening Anti-Spot Cream, Aichun Beauty Honey Natural Whitening Anti-Spot Cream, and White Glow Whitening Day & Night Cream are still illegal to sell because these items lack the required Cosmetic Product Notifications (CPNs) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just like the other 10 products.
From 2010 to date, the FDA has banned over 135 mercury-containing and unnotified skin whitening products, 80 of which were discovered by the EcoWaste Coalition through its periodic market surveillance and product analysis.
Aichun Beauty Carrot Natural Whitening Anti-Spot Cream, Aichun Beauty Honey Natural Whitening Anti-Spot Cream, Parley Herbal Beauty Cream, Temulawak Day & Night Cream, and White Glow Day & Night Cream are not yet included in the FDA's banned product list.
Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences, including kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration and scarring, reduced skin resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy, according to the World Health Organization.