22 May 2024, Quezon City.  Mercury-containing skin-lightening products are dangerous to human health and the environment. The continued sale of such products goes against national and city laws, as well as the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

This was emphasized by the resource persons at the consultative meeting organized by the Quezon City Health Department (QCHD) on May 21 at the Quezon City Hall, which drew the participation of shopping mall management representatives and cosmetic product and food supplement retailers, exhibitors, and organizers.  Dr. Laarni Malapit, Head of the QCHD-Special Services Division, welcomed the participants and urged them to support the efforts of the city government to protect public health and the environment from the detrimental effects of hazardous products such as mercury cosmetics.

Spearheaded by the Food and Drug Regulation Office (FDRO), the meeting provided the participants with information about health and environmental effects of mercury in skin lightening products and the relevant laws and regulations, particularly Republic Act No. 9711 (Food and Drug Administration Act) and Quezon City Ordinance No. 2767, series of 2018, that concerned establishments need to know and must comply with.

Licensed pharmacist Jeanette Dacanay, Chief of QCHD-FDRO, briefs the participants about the regulations governing the sale of cosmetics and food supplements.

As discussed by licensed pharmacist Jeanette Dacanay, Chief of the QCHD-FDRO, RA 9711 strictly prohibits the manufacture, importation, distribution, sale and other acts, including advertising, promotion or sponsorship, of any health products without the proper FDA authorization. FDA is the agency tasked to ensure the safety, efficacy and quality of health products in the market such as cosmetics, drugs, food supplements and others.  As such, the sale of adulterated, misbranded or unauthorized health products, and those already expired, is prohibited by law.  Before offering any health product for sale, Dacanay advised participants to use the FDA Verification Portal to check if a cosmetic product has a certificate of product notification (CPN), or a certificate of product registration (CPR) in the case of food supplements.

As for Quezon City Ordinance 2767, Dacanay enjoined the participants not to engage in the illegal sale of  mercury-containing products, stressing that the said ordinance promulgated in 2018 bans and penalizes the importation, manufacture, marketing and promotion, distribution and sale of cosmetics with mercury in the city.  She also gave an overview of the FDA’s mandatory labeling requirements, especially for cosmetics, in line with the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

For the information of mall operators and others, Engr. Alyanna Kathleen Uy from the Chemical Management Section of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) discussed the hazards of mercury, mercury compounds and mercury-added products, stressing mercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies throughout the food chain ultimately harming species and human consumers.  She informed the participants about the efforts of the government to address mercury emissions and releases through the promulgation of a Chemical Control Order for mercury and its compounds as revised in 2019, the country’s ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2020 and the issuance in 2022 of a Joint Administrative Order with other agencies to protect online consumers against deceptive, unfair and unconscionable sales acts and practices, including the sale of prohibited products and materials such as mercury-added cosmetics and liquid mercury.

For his part, EcoWaste Coalition’s campaigner Manny Calonzo briefed the participants about the health effects of exposure to mercury lurking in some skin lightening creams to women and men who use them, as well as to non-users, noting that the mercury in such product can spread to things the user touches and that it can also get into the air and get inhaled by everyone, babies and young children in particular. He cited an investigation by the EcoWaste Coalition, which showed 25 of the 25 mercury cosmetics it analyzed emitted dangerous amounts of mercury vapor ranging from 35 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 260 ug/m3, way above 1 ug/mg3 limit for normal residential occupancy.

To illustrate the health problems associated with the use of mercury cosmetics, he cited the stories of some mercury poisoning victims in the Philippines, Hong Kong, India and the USA who suffered from severe rashes, proteinuria (elevated level of protein in the urine) and renal damage, and partial vision loss.  For the information of cosmetic product vendors, he brought samples of FDA-banned or warned mercury cosmetics, including the widely sold Pakistan-made Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene, Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream and Goree Gold 24K Beauty Cream, and the Thailand-made 88 Total White Underarm Cream.

A participant takes a photo of illegal mercury cosmetics that should not be offered for sale, especially in Quezon City.

Calonzo reiterated that “the safest way to protect ourselves against the health-damaging effects of mercury is to accept and embrace our natural skin tone and avoid using skin bleaching, lightening or whitening products,” emphasizing “all colors are beautiful.”

The meeting ended with an earnest appeal from the QCHD for concerned establishments to abide by the laws and regulations for cosmetics, food supplements and other health products as this will be for the common good, the environment included.