The cost of fair skin
Individuals who desire to have fairer skin often resort to skin whitening topical products. But not all whitening cosmetics are safe for use.
Watch group EcoWaste Coalition cautions the public against mercury-laden cosmetics, particularly skin whitening facial creams, that are being sold in the Philippines and other Asean nations despite a regional ban on mercury above the trace amount of one part per million (1 ppm) under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
The group cited the Asean Post-Marketing Alert Systems Reports disseminated by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines that listed cosmetic products, including 11 skin whitening creams laced with mercury, which health authorities in Brunei and Indonesia recently banned.
Health authorities in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates this year also banned six brands of skin whitening cosmetics due to their mercury content, the group added.
Based on EcoWaste Coalition’s monitoring, the FDA has banned over 135 mercury-containing skin lightening creams since 2010, including 80 brands discovered by the group through its periodic test buys and product analyses.
“The trade in skin whitening cosmetics tainted with mercury in the Philippines and elsewhere poses a serious health threat to women who are lured into using such products that are often marketed as remedy to all skin maladies,” said Thony Dizon, chemical safety campaigner of EcoWaste Coalition.
“It is not only teenage and adult women who suffer from mercury exposure through the use of such cosmetics but also developing fetuses and babies,” he added.
The group cited the Asean PMAS report which said, “Nursing mothers are doubly vulnerable because mercury is passed on to nursing babies through breast milk, which can affect the baby’s development.”
“People exposed to mercury exhibit symptoms including, but not limited to, tremors, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, gingivitis or inflammation of the gums, pink discoloration of the hands and feet, irritability, and photophobia or sensitivity to light,” according to the Asean alerts.
According to the report “Mercury in Women of Child-Bearing Age in 25 Countries,” published by Biodiversity Research Institute and IPEN (a global civil society network for a toxic-free future that includes EcoWaste Coalition), “the harmful effects that can be passed from the mother to the fetus when the mother’s mercury levels exceed 1 ppm include neurological impairment, IQ loss, and damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system.”
“At high levels of mercury exposure this can lead to brain damage, developmental disabilities, blindness, seizures, and the inability to speak,” the report said.
To prevent exposure to mercury among women, fetuses, and babies through mercury-laden skin lightening cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition urged Filipinos to be happy and satisfied with our natural skin tone.
“There is beauty and dignity in our ‘kayumangging kaligatan,’” the group emphasized.
If whiter skin tone is preferred, the group advised the public to consult with a licensed dermatologist, and to abstain from using skin lightening products that lack the FDA-required cosmetic product notifications and are not guaranteed safe from mercury and other hazardous substances like hydroquinone and tretinoin.