Consumer Alert: Banned mercury-laden skin whitening cosmetics on sale in Palawan


Skin whitening cosmetics containing dangerous levels of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, have found their way to Palawan and are sold over the counter in blatant violation of the law.

The Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition made this revelation after conducting test buys in Puerto Princesa City on June 4 that netted four brands of mercury-laced skin lightening products banned under Republic Act 9711 and Republic Act 7394.

RA 9711, or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Act, and RA 7394, the Consumer Act of the Philippines, prohibit the manufacture, importation, selling or offering for sale of cosmetics without approval from the FDA or for containing harmful or toxic substances.

Among these proscribed products was Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene with SPF 30 Avocado & Aloe Vera from Pakistan that health authorities in the Philippines, Brunei and Singapore had banned for containing mercury above the trace amount limit of 1 part per million (ppm)  under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

The toxics-watch group bought the skin whitening cosmetics, costing P100 to P300 per product, from shops located at Chinatown Center.

Using a portable X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer, a device that can identify and quantify the concentrations of heavy metals in consumer products and other materials, the group detected high concentrations of mercury in the following products:  Goree Beauty Cream, 19,600 ppm; Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream, 18,500 ppm; and Collagen Plus Vit E Day & Night Cream, 6,674  ppm.  The fourth product, Bihuayn  Whitening Cream, had no detectable mercury content.

FDA banned Bihuayn banned in 2013, and Collagen Plus and the two variants of Goree in 2017.

“Consumers should be extra careful when buying cosmetics that promise brighter or fairer skin complexion as some of them may contain poisonous ingredients like mercury.  Repeated application of such cosmetics may result in chronic exposure to mercury and cause damage to the brain and the central nervous system, the kidneys and the skin itself,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

Atty. Gerthie Mayo-Anda, Executive Director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC), deplored the sale of mercury-laced cosmetics in Palawan as “a violation of the basic consumer right to be protected against the marketing of goods that are hazardous to health and life.”

“We urge the authorities to get to the bottom of this toxic exposé by the EcoWaste Coalition and hold those responsible for such unlawful trade to protect the Palaweños and our environment from the negative effects of mercury pollution,” she said.

Visiting expert Lee Bell, Mercury Policy Adviser of IPEN (a global civil society network promoting safe chemicals policies and practices) said: “Ecowaste Coalition have highlighted the serious issue of mercury contamination of cosmetics and it is important for authorities to act immediately to remove them from the sale.”

“Mercury is a potent neurotoxin and we must take all possible action to prevent human exposure. Special care must be taken by women of childbearing age to avoid these contaminated cosmetics as the mother and developing fetus can suffer significant damage,” he pointed out.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. (It may) also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration, and scarring as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.”

“Public awareness needs to be raised regarding the types of products and the specific products that contain mercury and the risks associated with mercury exposure,” the WHO said. (PR)

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