A watch group tracking toxic chemicals in products and wastes scored the flagrant sale in Region IV-A of dangerous skin whitening cosmetics laced with mercury despite being banned by health authorities.
The EcoWaste Coalition exposed the illegal trade of mercury-containing skin whitening creams imported from China after procuring the proscribed products from retailers in nine cities in Region IV-A, also known as the CALABARZON region.
“We are appalled by the traders’ utter disregard for consumer health and safety that is threatened by mercury in cosmetics that promise to brighten and smoothen the skin,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Mercury, which is forbidden in cosmetic product formulations, is hazardous to health. Chronic exposure to this highly toxic chemical can cause damage to the kidneys, nervous system, and to the skin itself,” he added.
“Now that the news is out, we expect our national and local government agencies to act with dispatch to rid CALABARZON of these dangerous products to protect consumers, especially women who unsuspectingly patronize such poison cosmetics,” he stated.
In line with the country's laws as well as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the EcoWaste Coalition exhorted local government units where the illegal products are sold to take action, including adopting ordinances banning mercury-contaminated skin whitening products like what Quezon City recently did.
In test buys conducted from February 15 to 18, the group bought 22 skin whitening cosmetics costing P60 to P200 each from stores selling beauty and herbal products in the cities of Cavite and Imus in Cavite province, Biñan, San Pablo and San Pedro in Laguna province, Batangas and Lipa in Batangas province, Antipolo in Rizal province and Lucena in Quezon province. Many of the sellers provided official receipts.
The products bought were among those already covered by various public health warnings issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) against skin whiteners with mercury above the trace amount limit of 1 part per million (ppm) as per the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
The group then screened the products for mercury using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analytical device. As per XRF screening, mercury exceeding the 1 ppm limit was detected in all the 22 samples.
S’Zitang 7-Day Specific Whitening & Spot A B Set was found to contain 3,058 ppm of mercury, Jiaoli Miraculous Cream 2,638 ppm, Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set 2,636 ppm, S’Zitang 10-Day Whitening & Spot Day-Night Set 2,627 ppm, Mifton 1155 ppm, JJJ Magic Spot Removing Cream 976 ppm, and Erna Whitening Cream 925 ppm.
The EcoWaste Coalition urged consumers to immediately stop using these health-damaging products and to seek medical attention, especially if they are starting to experience the side effects of using such products.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.” It noted that “mercury in skin lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.” Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy, said the WHO.
The FDA has likewise warned “the transfer of mercury to fetuses of pregnant women may manifest as neurodevelopment deficits later in life.”
To halt the illegal trade of mercury-containing cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the government to go after erring importers, distributors and sellers and to charge them under Republic Act 9711, or the Food and Drug Administration Act.
RA 9711 states that any person who violates the law shall, upon conviction, suffer the penalty of imprisonment from one to not more than 10 years or a fine of not less than P50,000 but not more than P500,000. Stiffer penalties and fines await erring manufacturers, importers or distributors.
Interesting product claims as indicated on the product label or insert:
1. Jiaoli Miraculous Cream: "Prepared from famous Chinese traditional medicine... quickly and thoroughly remove pigment and whiten the skin."
2. JJJ: "With ancient medical recipe... a super spots removing cream.... makes skin shining within 7 days."
3. Mifton: "Witness the white skin after seven days."
4. S'Zitang: "Based on secret recipe of Chinese medicine... it is the true effective product for you to renew your youth and recollect your self-confidence."