(Groups direct attention to LGUs’ role to stop trade in cosmetics containing mercury)
Quezon City. Environmental groups Cavite Green Coalition and EcoWaste Coalition are appealing to local government units (LGUs) to join the global campaign against skin lightening products contaminated with mercury, a highly toxic chemical.
LGUs’ participation in the campaign for the elimination of such cosmetics under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, according to the groups, is essential to protect public health and the environment from mercury exposure via application of contaminated creams and soaps whose manufacture, import or export was globally phased out in 2020.
During the test buy operations it conducted in Imus City last September 22, the EcoWaste Coalition procured five imported products that are blatantly sold for P150 to P250 each despite being forbidden by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — some banned as early as 2010 — for lacking market authorization and/or for containing mercury above one part per million (ppm), the limit set under the Minamata Convention and the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.
“The illegal sale of FDA-banned cosmetics is putting the health of Imuseños, especially the health of women, children and babies in the womb, at risk of mercury exposure,” lamented Ochie Tolentino, Coordinator, Cavite Green Coalition. “We appeal to the city authorities to immediately act on the toxic alert to be provided by the EcoWaste Coalition and take steps to halt the unethical trade of such dangerous cosmetics.”
“It is likely that these products are also being sold elsewhere. We therefore encourage other LGUs in the province to carry out random inspections targeting beauty product retail stores near and within public markets and shopping malls,” she added.
For her part, Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition said: “The persistent trade of banned cosmetics in the domestic market points to the very important role that local authorities can do to safeguard their constituents from mercury exposure, and promote compliance to product and chemical safety laws in their areas of jurisdiction,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition. “With the active involvement of LGUs, we can win this battle against mercury-laden skin whiteners and for respect and acceptance of our natural skin tone.”
The collected products from Imus City were then screened for mercury using an Olympus Vanta M Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. The two Pakistan-made Goree facial creams, which the FDA banned in 2017, were found to contain 28,200 ppm and 29,370 ppm of mercury.
S’Zitang 10-Day Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set (banned in 2010, 2017 and 2018), JJJ Golden Package Magic Spots Removing Cream (banned in 2010) and 88 Total White Underarm Cream (banned in 2021) were likewise found contaminated with 537 ppm (night cream) and 555 ppm (day cream), 880 ppm (night cream) and 883 ppm (day cream), and 2,687 ppm of mercury, respectively.
Aside from defying the 2020 global phase-out of mercury-added products under the Minamata Convention, the continuing importation, distribution and sale of such cosmetics violates national laws such as the Consumer Act of the Philippines (RA 7394 prohibits adulterated cosmetics or those containing any poisonous or deleterious substance) and the Food and Drug Administration Act (RA 9711 prohibits health products, including cosmetics, that are adulterated, unregistered or misbranded).
Mercury is hazardous to human health. According to health experts, mercury in skin lightening cosmetics is released through usual product use with dermal absorption and inhalation as common exposure routes. It can cause skin discoloration, rashes and scarring, and it can reduce skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. Repeated applications can harm the kidneys, the brain and the central nervous system.
Health experts have also warned that the use of mercury-containing skin lightening products by pregnant women is of utmost concern as mercury is known to cross the placenta during pregnancy and accumulate in fetal tissues, affecting the developing brain and nervous system of the baby in the womb and causing neuro-developmental disorders.