01 March 2018

EcoWaste Coalition Raises the Alarm Over Trade in Mercury-Laden Cosmetics in PH, ASEAN

As the celebration of the National Women’s Month gets underway, a watch group on toxic chemicals, products and wastes cautioned the public against the purchase and use of cosmetics contaminated with mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

The EcoWaste Coalition warned that mercury-laden cosmetics, particularly skin whitening facial creams, are being sold in the Philippines and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) despite a regional ban on mercury above the trace amount of one part per million (1 ppm) under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

The group cited the ASEAN Post- Marketing Alert Systems (PMAS) Reports disseminated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines listing cosmetic products, including 11 skin whitening creams laced with mercury, that health authorities in Brunei and Indonesia recently banned.

Health authorities in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates this year also banned six brands of skin whitening cosmetics due to their mercury content, the group added 

Based on the EcoWaste Coalition’s monitoring, the FDA has banned over 135 mercury-containing skin lightening creams since 2010, including  80 brands discovered by the group through its periodic test buys and  chemicals in product analyses.

“The trade in skin whitening cosmetics tainted with mercury in the Philippines and elsewhere poses a serious health threat to women who are lured into using such products that are often marketed as remedy to all skin maladies,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“It is not only teenage and adult women who suffer from mercury exposure through the use of such cosmetics but also developing fetuses and babies,” he said.

As indicated in the ASEAN PMAS reports, “nursing mothers are doubly vulnerable because mercury is passed on to nursing babies through breast milk, which can affect the baby’s development.”     

“People exposed to mercury exhibit symptoms including, but not limited to, tremors, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, gingivitis or inflammation of the gums, pink discoloration of the hands and feet, irritability, and photophobia or sensitivity to light,” the ASEAN alerts said. 

According to the report “Mercury in Women of Child-Bearing Age in 25 Countries,” published by Biodiversity Research Institute and IPEN (a global civil society network for a toxics-free future that includes the EcoWaste Coalition), “the harmful effects that can be passed from the mother to the fetus when the mother’s mercury levels exceed 1 ppm include neurological impairment, IQ loss, and damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system.”
“At high levels of mercury exposure this can lead to brain damage, developmental disabilities, blindness, seizures and the inability to speak,” the report said.

To prevent exposure to mercury among women, fetuses and babies through mercury-laden skin lightening cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition urged Filipinos to be happy and satisfied with our natural skin tone.  

“There is beauty and dignity in our ‘kayumangging kaligatan,’” the group emphasized.

If whiter skin tone is preferred, the group advised the public to consult with a licensed dermatologist, and to abstain from using skin lightening products that lack the FDA-required cosmetic product notifications and are not guaranteed safe from mercury and other hazardous substances like hydroquinone and tretinoin.




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