Toxics Watchdog Group Urges Consumers to be On Guard Against Bogus Claims of Skin Whitening Products Laced with Mercury

As the annual Consumer Welfare Month is observed this October, a toxics watchdog group advised consumers to be wary of false, misleading or deceptive product claims of chemical skin whiteners cosmetics proliferating in the market.

The month-long celebration, pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 1098, promotes concerted efforts for the assertion of consumer rights in line with Republic Act 7394, or the Consumer Act of the Philippines.

Citing the right of consumers to be protected against hazards to health and safety as enshrined in RA 7394, the EcoWaste Coalition exhorted the public to reject adulterated and mislabeled cosmetics such as those marketed to brighten or whiten the skin.

According to the said law, a cosmetic is deemed adulterated if it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance such as mercury, which may render it injurious to users.  On the other hand, a cosmetic is considered mislabeled if its labeling or advertising is false or misleading in any way.

“Consumers should be on guard against skin cosmetics with hidden mercury additives that deceivingly promise to lighten the skin and treat various skin conditions with no side effects,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.   "Consumers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, including online shoppers, need to be extra vigilant to protect themselves and their families against these health-damaging products." 

Unknown to many, exposure to mercury through the direct and repeated application of mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics can cause adverse health effects, including  brain, nerve and kidney damage.  

Mercury use in cosmetics can also lead to skin rashes, discoloration and scarring, and diminished skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy, according to the World Health Organization.

The group renewed its push for consumer access to safe skin care products after purchasing adulterated and mislabeled cosmetics in test buys conducted this week. It managed to obtain 10 forbidden products costing P55 to P250 each from beauty product shops and Chinese drug stores in the City of Manila.  Some of the products bought are also available in other parts of the country and in online shopping sites.

Based on the chemical screening conducted by the group using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, all the 10 analyzed samples were found to contain violative levels of mercury higher than the trace amount limit of one part per million (ppm). 

A Yu Dan Tang cream flaunting its “gentle formula” with ginseng and green cucumber essence that assures a “baby skin” registered with the highest amount of mercury at 77,700 ppm. The product is manufactured by a company in Taiwan. 

A Goree “total fairness” cream that claims “no side effects” had 36,600 ppm of mercury, while a Goree beauty cream with lycopene that describes itself as “the best skin lightener” had 31,500 ppm.  Both products are from Pakistan. 

Another product with outrageous mercury content was Feique whitening and anti-freckle day cream made from “traditional herbs” with 33,300 ppm of mercury.  The product is produced in China.
Also found positive for mercury were Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream reportedly from Indonesia with 3,609 ppm and Erna whitening cream allegedly from Malaysia with 1,757 ppm of mercury.
Made in China, Yang Qian “Care Skin” whitening cream, S’Zitang whitening cream and two variants of Jiaoli whitening cream were likewise found laden with up to 2,288 ppm, 1,513 ppm and 1,366 ppm of mercury, respectively.

The above products are among those already banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for lacking certificates of product notification and/or for containing mercury.

Both the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive and the Minamata Convention on Mercury set a limit of one ppm for mercury in cosmetics, including skin lightening creams and soaps.

To prevent mercury exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition reminded Filipinos seeking fair complexion to avoid chemical whiteners, while encouraging everyone to celebrate our natural skin tone, stressing that our skin color does not define us as individuals or as a nation.


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