The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition decried the unabated smuggling of cosmetics with extremely high mercury content surpassing mercury waste specifications.

Coinciding with the last day of the 5th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP5) of the Minamata Convention on Mercury (October 30 to November 3), the group on Friday procured eight imported skincare cosmetics that claim to brighten or lighten the skin tone and manage signs of ageing, including age spots, dryness and wrinkles.

The products costing P150 to P350 each were obtained from cosmetic product retailers in Pasay City.  Sold without authorization from the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the contraband cosmetics were smuggled into the Philippines from China (one product), Thailand (one product) and Pakistan (six products).

Chemical screening performed by the EcoWaste Coalition found all eight products contaminated with mercury at concentrations exceeding the threshold value of 15 mg/kg (or 15 parts per million or ppm) for mercury waste.

Using a handheld X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) device, the group detected extremely high levels of mercury in the analyzed products that were many orders of magnitude higher than the 15 ppm limit for mercury waste under the Minamata Convention, as well as the 1 ppm limit for mercury in cosmetics as per the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

“The unabated production and trade of contraband skin lightening products with high mercury content that may classify them as mercury waste or hazardous waste, which should be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, is a stark reminder of the unfinished job of eliminating these poisonous cosmetics, ” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Governments need to act with resolve and speed to put a stop to mercury-added cosmetics that pose serious threats to human health and the ecosystems,” she added.

Three Pakistan-made Goree products were found highly adulterated with mercury.  Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene contained 29,770 ppm of mercury, while Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream and Goree Gold 24K Beauty Cream had 28,530 ppm and 22,350 ppm, respectively.

Three other products from Pakistan – Parley Goldie Advanced Beauty Cream, Armena Gold Beauty Cream and Golden Pearl Beauty Cream – contained 13,800 ppm, 12,100 ppm and 10,300 ppm of mercury, correspondingly.

Thailand made 88 Total White Underarm Cream contained 2,331 ppm of mercury, while the China-made two-in-one Jiaoli Miraculous Cream had 653 ppm (day cream) and 772 ppm (night cream).

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can damage multiple parts of the body, including the brain and the nervous system, the kidneys and the skin itself as manifested in skin rashes, discoloration and scarring and the skin’s reduced resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.

Direct application of contaminated skin whitening creams can lead to dermal absorption of mercury and inhalation of mercury vapor creating a two-fold exposure scenario.   Worst, children and other non-users may also be poisoned as mercury vapors seep into clothes, towels and furnishings polluting the air.

Women are the main marketing target of mercury-added skin whitening cosmetics and are most susceptible to the adverse effects of toxic exposure, particularly if they are of child-bearing age.

“It’s high time for the world to stop the unethical and unlawful trade of cosmetics containing any amount of mercury, and to stop falsely equating beauty with “whiteness,” the EcoWaste Coalition insisted.