Women Warned: Toxic Skin Whitening Cosmetics Pollute the Home, Making It Unsafe, Especially for Children

As the country celebrates the National Women’s Month, a toxics watchdog warned that mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics can pollute the household environment affecting users and non-users, including young children who are most vulnerable to toxic exposure.

As part of its continuing public information drive to inform consumers about the danger of using illegal mercury-containing cosmetics to lighten the skin tone, remove blotchy spots and even cure acne, the EcoWaste Coalition conducted yet another study on the amount of mercury that is released to the air with the use of such products.

The group’s latest investigation showed that dangerous levels of mercury vapor are emitted as soon as the jar containing the facial cream is opened, contaminating the air and exposing the user and her housemates to mercury even before the cream is applied to the skin.

“The quest for fairer complexion using unregistered skin lightening products with mercury can be very dangerous not only for users who are mostly women, but also for small kids who are deprived of clean air and environment at a very critical stage of their development,” said Aileen Lucero, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Young children, particularly in congested homes with poor air circulation, are particularly at risk when they touch mercury-tainted bedding and clothes and breathe polluted air,” she pointed out.

Cases have shown that contaminated air and contact with adult cream user’s skin and stained household items contribute to children’s exposure to mercury via skin absorption, inhalation and hand-to-mouth behavior.

“We therefore appeal to women using dubious skin whitening products with mercury to stop this injurious habit, don't go with the fad and be happy with our natural brown skin tone,” Lucero said.

Through the use of a Jerome J405 Mercury Vapor Analyzer, the EcoWaste Coalition, with assistance from Health Care Without Harm, measured mercury in ambient air that is discharged from tainted skin brightening cosmetics.

Out of 25 products analyzed, 25 were found to emit mercury vapor from 35 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 260 ug/m3, way above 1 ug/mg3, which is the “acceptable level for normal occupancy for most sensitive persons” based on the “Suggested Action Levels for Residential Setting” by the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

All the 25 samples released mercury vapor greater than 10 ug/m3, a level at which the recommended action by ATSDR is “isolation of contamination from residents or evacuation of residents.”

The ATSDR has further recommended 3-6 ug/m3 as the “acceptable level to allow personal belongings to remain in owner’s possession.” This means that the sampled facial creams, which are “personal belongings,” should be discarded for exceeding such level, the EcoWaste Coalition noted.

Mercury in the ambient air was measured at 0 ug/m3 before the first sample was opened and analyzed with Jerome.

Among the top 12 products that showed high mercury vapor emissions are:

1. BG Sea Pearl & Papaya Natural Essence 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Sun Block Cream, 260 ug/m3
2. JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream, 157 ug/m3
3. Feique Cucumber Anti-Wrinkle Whitening Set, 154 ug/m3
4. Feique Herbal Extract Chinese Formula Whitening Anti-Freckle Set, 137 ug/m3
5. Yu Dan Tang Gingseng and Green Cucumber 10 Days Whitening Speckles Removed Essence, 135 ug/m3
6. Beauty Excellent Lamb Placenta Whitening and Anti-Aging, 131 ug/m3
7. Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream, 123 ug/m3,
8. Jiaoli 7 Days Miracle Package for Spots Refining, 115 ug/m3
9. Zi Xin Mei Face Beauty Vegetable Red in White Series (pink and white box), 108 ug/m3
10. Feique Rose Refining Nourishing Set, 99 ug/m3
11. Zi Xin Mei Face Beauty Vegetable Red in White Series (purple and gold box), 95 ug/m3
12. Beauty Girl Egg White and Tomato 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream, 93 ug/m3

According to the ATSDR, “exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic, or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems.” 

Last month, the group organized a mock “Miss Poison Cosmetics” beauty pageant to expose the unhindered trade of contraband skin whitening products in 50 cities all over the Philippines.

As revealed in the report “Beauty and the Risk,” a study published by the EcoWaste Coalition with support from the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN), 316 of the 355 samples of skin whitening facial creams were found contaminated with mercury up to 96,100 parts per million (ppm),  way beyond the allowable limit of 1 ppm under the  ASEAN Cosmetics Directive.




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