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EcoWaste issues warning on underarm whitening creams with mercury content

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The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has sounded the alarm over mercury exposure through the use of two “made in Thailand” underarm whitening creams.

“Our investigation shows that toxic mercury is also present in some cosmetics that claim to reduce body odor and lighten dark underarms,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition, which has detected mercury in mostly facial creams since 2011.  “This is worrisome as many Filipinos are also obsessed with smooth and white armpits.”

According to the chemical screening conducted by the group, Snow White Armpit Whitening Underarm Cream and 88 Total White Underarm Cream, which the group bought online, contained mercury above the one part per million (ppm) trace amount limit under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD) and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Using an Olympus Vanta M Series X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, the group detected 3,035 ppm and 3,042 ppm of mercury on the 88 Total White and Snow White underarm whitening creams, respectively.  

Both products were manufactured in November 2022 as indicated on their labels, and both products enticed consumers with the promise of reducing body odor, while providing a whitening effect and smooth skin tone.

“Like the mercury in some skin whitening and anti-ageing facial creams, mercury in underarm creams could pose serious health effects not only to those who directly use them but also to their families, especially young children, who might inhale the mercury vapors from the contaminated products or get exposed by using towels and other items tainted with mercury,” Lucero said. 

Exposure to the inorganic mercury in skin lightening products, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), may result in kidney damage, skin rashes, discoloration and scarring, reduced skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.

The group noted that the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had issued Advisory No. 2021-1187 against the purchase and use of 88 Total White Underarm Cream, which has no valid Certificate of Product Notification (CPN) and the use of which “may pose health risks to consumers.”

It also issued Advisory No. 2020-2083 against Snow White Armpit Whitening Underarm Cream, which the FDA Myanmar tested and found to contain mercury, a chemical that is not allowed to be part of a cosmetic product as per the ACD.

To prevent mercury poisoning among consumers and their families, the EcoWaste Coalition urged cosmetic manufacturers to abide by the ACD and the Minamata Convention’s 2020 global phase-out of mercury-added cosmetics such as skin lightening products with mercury content above one ppm.

The group further urged cosmetic regulators to strengthen compliance and enforcement strategies to rid the marketplace, including online shopping platforms, of skin lightening products contaminated with mercury and other hazardous substances.

As for consumers, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the Filipino people to reject chemical whiteners, unlearn the fixation with white skin, and to celebrate and love our natural skin color, stressing “beauty has no skin tone.”

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