Phase-out Mercury containing skin lightening products–BAN Toxics

The toxics watchdog group BAN Toxics warns the public on the prevalence of unlawful online selling of skin lightening products (SLPs) containing toxic mercury, a dangerous poison banned in cosmetic product formulations.

In the recent online market monitoring, the group purchased 18 skin lightening creams to generate data that will help promote the implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which phased-out in 2020 all cosmetics such as skin lightening products with mercury.

Using a SCIAPS X Series HH XRF Analyzer, the group screened the 18 procured samples and tested positive for toxic mercury (Hg) having a high concentration of up to 81,600 parts per million (ppm), way beyond the 1 ppm limit set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Of these 18 samples, the top 5 had mercury in excess of 10,000 ppm, namely: Parley Goldie Advanced Beauty Cream Pearl Shine with 81,600 ppm, Goree Day and Night Whitening Cream with 69,900 ppm, Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene with 49,200 ppm, Faiza Beauty Cream with 37,000 ppm and Papaya Whitening & Freckle-Eliminating package with 13,700 ppm. Most of the samples are already prohibited by the FDA.

“Our market monitoring efforts should send a warning signal to online shopping and social media sites to strictly follow the e-commerce regulation in the country.  They should be vigilant in removing prohibited and/or banned skin lightening products with mercury in their platforms,” said Thony Dizon, Toxics Campaigner, BAN Toxics.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI issued on 04 March 2022 the Joint Administrative Order (JAO 22-01) on Guidelines for Online Businesses Reiterating the Laws and Regulations Applicable to Online Businesses and Consumers which aims to increase consumer confidence in business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce transactions.

Section 6 and 7 of the said JAO reminded online businesses to ensure the protection of the public against hazards to health and safety and deceptive, unfair, and unconscionable sales acts and practices as it inculcates the rights and mechanisms a redress for online consumers.

“BAN Toxics reiterates the existing health and e-commerce regulations that online shopping platforms should abide by. We have to safeguard the safety of the consumers against toxic chemicals such as mercury in skin lightening products,” the group added. 

In 2022, the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) published a study entitled “Skin Lighteners still online despite Mercury findings,” an investigation of SLPs offered by over 40 online platforms, and accessed in 17 countries.  Of the 271 SLPs tested, 129 exceeded the maximum allowable limit for mercury of 1 part per million (ppm).

According to the study, despite substantial health risks, mercury compounds are frequently added to SLPs because mercury lightens the skin by suppressing the production of melanin. SLPs have received significant attention in the scientific literature—with countless studies outlining their negative impacts on health and well-being. The World Health Organization has also recognized that mercury—added to some SLPs—is a “major public health concern.”

BAN Toxics has pushed the Philippine government to take action to curb mercury use in the country since 2007. The Minamata Convention on Mercury was ratified by the Philippine government on July 8, 2020. It is an international agreement established to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds caused by human activity. Article 4 of the Minamata Convention on Mercury prohibits the manufacture, import, or export of specific mercury-added products after 2020. Under this article, all cosmetic products will be required to have mercury concentration of less than 1 part per million (ppm).

To protect consumers from exposure to toxic mercury in skin lightening products, BAN Toxics recommended the followings:

For consumers to check the product first before buying, review/verify the product to ensure that it is approved by the FDA and report to proper authorities any prohibited and/or banned products being sold online.

For online shopping sites to remove immediately all prohibited and/or banned skin lightening products and ensure that products being offered for sale are fully compliant with the rules and regulation of the FDA and DTI.

For the government to strengthen the e-commerce law to ensure that consumers are protected against hazardous products such as mercury containing SLPs, and take necessary enforcement action against online shopping platforms.

“The proliferation of mercury-added skin lightening products being sold in online shopping platforms must end to prevent exposure to toxic mercury,” the group added.