EARTH Thailand

NGOs Put Pressure on FDA Thailand to Act vs. Cosmetics Contaminated with Mercury

PRESS RELEASE  6 February 2023

Bangkok, Thailand/Quezon City Philippines. In an unprecedented move, public interest organizations working to reduce human exposure to harmful chemicals pressed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of Thailand to take immediate action to stop the unlawful production and trade of cosmetics laden with mercury.

In a joint letter delivered today to FDA Thailand’s office in Nonthaburi, environmental and consumer rights advocates from the Philippines and Thailand notified the authorities about the unlawful sale in the Philippines of at least 14 Thailand-made skincare cosmetics with high levels of mercury, an extremely toxic chemical banned in the manufacture of cosmetics such as skin lightening products.

The letter was signed by women leaders of the Ecowaste Coalition, Ecological Alert and Recovery-Thailand (EARTH Thailand), Foundation for Consumers (FFC) and the International Pollutants Elimination Network-Southeast and East Asia (IPEN SEAI) and addressed to Dr. Paisarn Dunkum, Secretary-General of FDA Thailand and Mrs. Supawadee Teerawatsakul, Director of the Bureau of Cosmetics and Hazardous Substances Control.

“To protect our women, children and other vulnerable populations against multiple health problems linked to mercury exposure via contaminated cosmetics, we appeal to the FDA Thailand to conduct an in-depth investigation into the continued production of mercury-added cosmetics and their eventual export and sale abroad, particularly in the Philippines,” wrote Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition; Penchom Saetang, Executive Director, EARTH; Kochanuch Saengthalaeng, Director of Foundation for Consumers; and Chinkie Peliño-Golle, Regional Coordinator, IPEN-SEA.

“Please go after the culprits to break the unethical trade of cosmetics containing mercury, and to uphold the people’s right to health and to a non-toxic environment,” they told the Thai authorities. 

The groups’ historic outreach to Thai cosmetic regulators stemmed from the EcoWaste Coalition’s discovery of high mercury levels in 12 facial and two underarm whitening creams labeled “made in Thailand” and sold by some offline retailers and online sellers.

Using an X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) analyzer, the products were found to contain mercury in the range of 2,486 ppm to 44,540 parts per million (ppm), way beyond the one ppm maximum limit set by the Asean Cosmetic Directive (ACD), the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the recently issued “Notification of the Ministry of Public Health Prescribing the Name of any Substance Prohibited for Use as an Ingredient in Cosmetic Production (No. 7) B.E. 2565 (2022).”

Among the products found contaminated with mercury are Lady Gold Seaweed Gluta/Super Gluta Brightening, five variants of Dr. Yanhee, two variants of Dr. Wuttisak, Meyyong Seaweeds Super Whitening, Polla Gold Super White Perfects, White Nano, 88 Whitening Night Cream, 88 Total White Underarm Cream, and Snow White Armpit Whitening Underarm Cream.

The said products, which are sold in the Philippines without the required market authorization from the country’s FDA, were mostly manufactured in 2022 or two years after the 2020 global phase-out deadline for mercury-containing cosmetics as provided for in the Minamata Convention on Mercury. 

In strongly pushing for industry compliance to the mercury ban in cosmetics, the groups underscored the dangers posed by contaminated cosmetics to human health. “Aside from allowing mercury to penetrate into the body through the skin, consumers of these contaminated cosmetics are also exposing anyone at home, including babies and children, to mercury vapors, which can be inhaled and thus creating a two-fold exposure situation via skin absorption and mercury vapor inhalation,” the groups said. 

“People living together in places with inadequate ventilation are at greater risk when they breathe mercury-contaminated air and touch mercury-contaminated clothes, blankets, pillows, and towels,” they added.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has identified mercury as one of the “10 chemicals of major public health concern,” the “adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include: kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy,” 

“Women, who are the main target market of cosmetics that claim to lighten the skin, fight ageing and treat acne, pimples and other dermal problems, are highly vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury exposure, especially if they are of child bearing age,” the groups highlighted.

Cases of mercury intoxication due to the use of mercury-adulterated cosmetics have been documented such as the case of a woman in California who fell into coma in 2019, and, most recently, a woman in Minnesota who was reported in 2022 for suffering from partial vision loss due to prolonged use of skin lightening products with mercury content, they pointed out.

The EcoWaste Coalition, EARTH, FFC and IPEN-SEAN further urged FDA Thailand to release an updated list of banned cosmetics containing mercury and to utilize the ASEAN Post-Marketing Alert System (PMAS) to alert the governments and consumers of ASEAN member states about non-compliant cosmetic products, specifically those containing mercury and other banned or restricted substances.