Mercury found in smuggled whitening products in Mindanao

MERCURY-LACED. Many whitening products for sale in certain Mindanao cities were found to be contaminated with high levels of mercury./ Photo from EcoWaste Coalition

MERCURY-LACED. Many whitening products for sale in certain Mindanao cities were found to be contaminated with high levels of mercury.

/ Photo from EcoWaste Coalition

MANILA, Philippines – Environment group EcoWaste Coalition urged local government units (LGUs) in cities in Mindanao to take action against the selling of cosmetics which were found to have traces of extremely toxic mercury.

EcoWaste Coalition said mercury, a chemical which is very poisonous to humans, was found in skin whitening products sold in Cagayan de Oro, Oroquieta, Ozamiz, Iligan, Dipolog, Pagadian, and Zamboanga.

The environment group called on the LGUs, as well as health and police officials to “act fast to stop the illegal trade of such toxic skin whiteners that could put the health of their constituents, especially women and girls, at risk of mercury poisoning.” 

In a statement made on Thursday, June 27, EcoWaste Coalition said that out of 93 samples screened early in June, they found 75 to be contaminated with mercury way beyond the 1 parts per million (ppm) limit set by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Cosmetic Directive and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Goree Beauty Cream and Goree Day and Night Whitening Cream, banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017, where found to have high concentrations of mercury ranging from 18,700 to 23,000 ppm. 

The group also found “violative levels of mercury” in the following whitening creams: Collagen Plus Vit E, Erna, Huayuenong, Jiaoli, La Widya, S’Zitang, Women of Flower, and Xinjiaoli. The FDA has issued advisories against all of these products, save for La Widya.

Meanwhile, the following products, while mercury-free, are “unlawful to sell due to the lack of market authorization from the FDA,” according to EcoWaste Coalition: Aichun Beauty Cream Fresh White, Aichun Beauty Cream Repair White, La Widya Temulawak Day and Night Cream, SP Asli Special UV Whitening, SP UV Special Whitening and Anti-Acne, The Face New Mengadung Temulawak Day and Night Cream, and UV Whitening Extra Ginseng.

Smuggled from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Pakistan, some of these products can be bought for as cheap as P25 to P350 in beauty and herbal retailers in public markets and shopping malls. They have not undergone required quality and safety assessment conducted by the FDA.  

There remains to be a high demand for such products in countries like the Philippines. According to a 2017 Future Market Insights study, the Asia-Pacific market remains to be the most lucrative region for skin whitening products as it makes up more than half of the global market – approximately $7.5 billion of the global $13.3 billion. (READ: The fairest of them all: What you need to know about skin whitening)

Mercury in skin whitening products, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), may cause “discoloration, scarring, and a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.” It may also affect mental wellbeing in the long run, as it could cause “anxiety, depression or psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy.” 

“As the Philippines develops its National Action Plan for mercury-added products, we also urge our councilors to consider replicating the Quezon City Ordinance banning the production, importation, distribution, and sale of mercury-added skin whitening cosmetics in their area of responsibility,” EcoWaste Coalition Chemical Safety Manager Thony Dizon said.

Dizon said a ban mercury-laced skin whitening products was not only be necessary for the health of citizens, but for the cleanliness of the environment as well. Mercury in these products could be discharged into wastewater and may pollute the environment. – Rappler.com