AS the celebration of the National Women’s Month gets underway, the EcoWaste Coalition, a Philippine based environment and public health watchdog, cautioned the public against the purchase and use of cosmetics contaminated with mercury, a potent neurotoxin.
The warning was issued after the coalition observed that mercury-laden cosmetics, particularly skin whitening facial creams, are being sold in the Philippines and other member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) despite a regional ban.
The ASEAN has an existing ban on mercury above the trace amount of one part per million (1 ppm).
To prove its claim, the Coalition cited the ASEAN Post- Marketing Alert Systems (PMAS) Reports disseminated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Philippines which listed 11 cosmetic products laced with mercury that health authorities in Brunei and Indonesia recently banned.
The coalition added that this year authorities in Hong Kong, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates also banned six brands of skin whitening cosmetics due to their mercury content.
Based on the Coalition’s monitoring, the FDA has already banned over 135 mercury-containing skin lightening creams since 2010, including 80 brands discovered by the group through its periodic test buys and chemicals in product analyses.
“The trade in skin whitening cosmetics tainted with mercury in the Philippines and elsewhere poses a serious health threat to women who are lured into using such products that are often marketed as remedy to all skin maladies,” said Thony Dizon, the Coalition’s chemical safety campaigner.
“It is not only teenage and adult women who suffer from mercury exposure through the use of such cosmetics but also developing fetuses and babies,” he added.
As indicated in the ASEAN PMAS reports, “nursing mothers are doubly vulnerable because mercury is passed on to nursing babies through breast milk, which can affect the baby’s development.”
The PMAS reports further said that “people exposed to mercury exhibit symptoms including, but not limited to, tremors, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, gingivitis or inflammation of the gums, pink discoloration of the hands and feet, irritability, and photophobia or sensitivity to light.”
On the other hand, according to the report “Mercury in Women of Child-Bearing Age in 25 Countries,” published by Biodiversity Research Institute and IPEN (a global civil society network for a toxic-free future that includes the EcoWaste Coalition), “the harmful effects that can be passed from the mother to the fetus when the mother’s mercury levels exceed 1 ppm include neurological impairment, IQ loss, and damage to the kidneys and cardiovascular system.”
“At high levels of mercury exposure this can lead to brain damage, developmental disabilities, blindness, seizures and the inability to speak,” the IPEN report said.
Meanwhile, to prevent exposure to mercury among women, fetuses and babies through mercury-laden skin lightening cosmetics, the Coalition urged Filipinos to be happy and satisfied with our natural skin tone.
“There is beauty and dignity in our ‘kayumangging kaligatan,’” the group emphasized.
If whiter skin tone is preferred, the group advised the public to consult with a licensed dermatologist, and to abstain from using skin lightening products that lack the FDA-required cosmetic product notifications, and are not guaranteed safe from mercury and other hazardous substances like hydroquinone and tretinoin.