Eleven skin lightening products banned in the USA for containing mercury are sold to Filipino consumers posing a serious health risk for their mostly women users, as well as other household residents, especially children.

The EcoWaste Coalition, an advocate for a zero waste and toxics-free society, revealed that it had purchased 11 skin lightening products made in China, Pakistan and Thailand that were among those found to contain mercury by health authorities in the states of California, Minnesota and New York.

“We obtained the items from cosmetic stores and from online sellers during our market monitoring.  Based on the chemical screening we conducted, the items are contaminated with high levels of mercury ranging from 2,230 to 58,400 parts per million (ppm), way above the global limit of one ppm,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Ten of these products were produced in 2021 or 2022 or after the global phase-out in 2020 of mercury-added cosmetics such as skin lightening products,” she said, “in clear defiance of the requirements of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, as well as the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD).

The ACD lists mercury and its compounds among the “substances which must not form part of the composition of cosmetic products,” a decision adopted by the ASEAN Cosmetic Committee in 2007, while the Minamata Convention sets 2020 as the “date after which the manufacture, import or export of the product shall not be allowed.”

“Six of these products are already covered by separate health advisories issued by the Philippine FDA warning consumers against buying and using them,” she added.

Among these 11 mercury-laced products are five Pakistan-made cosmetics, namely, Chandni Whitening Cream, Faiza Beauty Cream, Golden Pearl Beauty Cream, Goree Beauty Cream, and Sandal Beauty Cream, which were identified by the New York City Health Department (NYCHD) as containing mercury.

To warn consumers, the NYCHD published health warnings that say: “Do not use.  These beauty creams were found to contain mercury.  Mercury is a poison and can harm your health.  See your doctor if you use these products.”

Also sold locally are four Thailand-made mercury-added products such as 88 Total White Underarm Cream, Meyyong Seaweed Super Whitening, Polla Gold Super White, and Snow White Armpit Whitening Underarm Cream, which were among those found to contain mercury by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

According to the MDH,  “skin lightening products are rooted in colorism defined as discrimination that privileges light-skinned people over people with darker skin,” warning “skin lightening products may contain toxic chemicals (such as mercury, hydroquinone and/or steroids) that can negatively impact the consumer’s health and family living in the same space, such as children or elders.”

The group also bought two China-made Jiaoli Miraculous Cream and Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set, which were among those tested and found to contain mercury by the California Department of Health (CDH).

According to a fact sheet prepared by CDH, which is also available in Tagalog since California has the largest concentration of Filipinos living in the USA: “Ang ilang face cream ay nakakalason sa mga bata.  Maaari mo itong maikalat mula sa iyong mga kamay papunta sa buong bahay mo. Pumapasok ito sa katawan ng mga tao. Partikular itong nakakasama sa mga bata at buntis.” (Some face creams can poison children. You can spread it from your hands all over your home. It gets into people’s bodies. It is especially bad for children and pregnant women.)

To avoid mercury exposure, the EcoWaste Coalition again reminded consumers to shun chemical whiteners and embrace their natural skin color.  The group further urged consumers to discontinue their use of skin lightening products with mercury and other hazardous substances, visit a doctor for medical evaluation, and properly dispose of such products.