EcoWaste Coalition Bares Continued Sale in Manila of Kidney-Damaging Cosmetics with Mercury

As the National Kidney Month is observed this June in line with Presidential Proclamation No. 184, a toxics watchdog group has revealed the continued sale in the City of Manila of skin whitening cosmetics contaminated with mercury that is known to cause kidney damage. 

In support of stakeholders’ efforts for better kidney care and for mercury-free cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition recently went store-hopping in the Binondo, Santa Cruz, Quiapo and Tondo districts in search of cosmetics containing mercury.

“Our latest test buy operations in Manila have generated fresh evidence confirming the continued proliferation in the city of cosmetics laden with mercury,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition, “despite the 2020 global ban on mercury-added cosmetics under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.”

“For better kidney and overall health, we call upon the national and local authorities to step up its action to rid the market of mercury-laced cosmetics,” she added, noting the need to effectively implement the government’s “National Action Plan for the Phase-Out of Mercury-Added Products and the Management of the Associated Mercury-Containing Wastes.”

Out of the 12 products purchased for P70 to P250 each from stores offering cosmetics, herbal supplements and Chinese medicines, nine were confirmed to contain mercury above the regulatory limit of one part per million (ppm) and would be illegal to import, distribute and sell. 

Equipped with an Olympus Vanta M Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the group detected mercury ranging from 60 to over 26,000 ppm in the samples analyzed, which are among the over 150 skin care products flagged by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for containing mercury and/or lacking market authorization.

Aside from the more visible negative effects of exposure to mercury via skin whitening cosmetics such as skin discoloration, rashes and scarring and reduced skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, mercury in such products can be toxic to the kidneys.

According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “the kidneys are also sensitive to the effects of mercury, because mercury accumulates in the kidneys and causes higher exposures to these tissues, and thus more damage.”

The EcoWaste Coalition cited a case of nephrotic syndrome as stated in the World Health Organization’s fact sheet titled “Mercury in Skin Lightening Products” following exposure to mercury through a skin lightening cream. 

“One case report describes a 34-year-old Chinese woman who developed nephrotic syndrome, a condition marked by high levels of protein in the urine. Nephrotic syndrome can be associated with a series of complications that affect an individual’s health and quality of life. The mercury levels in the woman’s blood and urine returned to normal one month and nine months, respectively, after she stopped using the skin lightening cream,” the WHO said.

Among the mercury-tainted skin care products found by the EcoWaste Coalition on sale in Manila are: Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream (with 26,050 ppm of mercury), Goree Beauty Cream (25,590 ppm), Feique Herbal Extract Whitening Anti-Freckle Set (7,138 ppm), Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream (5,977 ppm), S’Zitang 7-Day Eliminating Freckle AB Set (1,398 ppm),  Care Skin Strong Whitening & Spot Removing Package (1,204 ppm), Jiaoli Miraculous Cream (967 ppm), S’Zitang 10-Day Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set (874 ppm), and Xuemeiting (60 ppm).

While negative for mercury, Beauty Girl 6-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening (Egg White & Tomato) and Yu Dan Tang 10-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot & Double Whitening Sun Block Cream do not have valid certificates of product notification, and would also be illegal to sell locally.

Presidential Proclamation No. 184 issued by then President Fidel Ramos declares the month of June as the National Kidney Month "to instill consciousness and increase public awareness of the fatal consequences of renal diseases."