EcoWaste Coalition Detects Mercury on FDA-Warned Underarm Whitening Cream

The EcoWaste Coalition, which has been tracking mercury-contaminated skin whitening cosmetics since 2011, has detected mercury in an imported product that claims to whiten the underarm and minimize body odor.

“We are astounded to find banned mercury in a product called ’88 Total White Underarm Cream’ from Thailand,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition. “We have detected mercury in dozens of facial creams, but this is the first time we discovered one that promises to reduce body odor while providing a whitening effect, particularly on the armpit.”

“This product is easily obtainable despite the issuance of a public health warning by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” noted Lucero. FDA Advisory No. 2021-1187 issued in June 2021 warned consumers against the purchase and use of “88 Total White Underarm Cream,” which has no market authorization from the FDA.

“This unauthorized cosmetic is hazardous to health because it contains mercury, which is not allowed as a cosmetic ingredient under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive,” she said. “Consumers who have bought this product should immediately stop using it and seek medical advice.”

In test buys conducted on December 26 and 27, the group purchased four pieces of the said product with varying manufacturing dates for P220 to P300 each from cosmetic stores located at 168, 999, Dragon8 and Tutuban Shopping Malls in Manila City.

As indicated on the labels, the products were manufactured in 2021 and 2022 in blatant violation of the 2020 global phase-out of cosmetics containing mercury above one part per million (ppm) as per the Minamata Convention on Mercury. To recall, Thailand acceded to the treaty in 2017 and the Philippines ratified it in 2020.

Based on the chemical screening conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition using an Olympus M Vanta Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF), all four samples of “88 Total White Underarm Cream” contained mercury levels in the range of 2,486 to 3,130 ppm, way above the maximum 1 ppm limit.

"88 Total White Underarm Cream" is the latest cosmetic product from Thailand found contaminated with mercury by the EcoWaste Coalition. Last November, the group exposed the high levels of mercury in eight Thai skin lightening cosmetics sold online by local sellers. Found laced with mercury through XRF screening were Lady Gold Seaweed Gluta/Super Gluta Brightening with 44,540 ppm (beige cream), five variants of Dr. Yanhee Facial Creams with 19,200 ppm (purple cream), 19,000 ppm (green cream), 11,830 ppm (beige cream), 9,460 ppm (pink) and 8,600 ppm (burnt orange cream); White Nano with 15,900 ppm (yellow cream), and Meyyong Seaweeds Super Whitening with 3,784 ppm (green cream).

“The presence of mercury-added cosmetics from Thailand in physical stores and in online shopping platforms is deeply concerning,” Lucero commented. “Cosmetic regulators in the Philippines and Thailand, we hope, will take notice of this threat to public health and the environment, find and charge the culprits, and stop the illegal trade."

According to health experts, mercury in cosmetics such as skin lightening creams and soaps can be absorbed by the skin, causing damage to the kidneys, the brain and the nervous system. The use of such cosmetics may result in skin rashes, discoloration and blotching and loss of resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as anxiety, depression, peripheral neuropathy and psychosis. Pregnant women's exposure to mercury may also affect the development of unborn babies.


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