MANILA - Environmental experts and advocates on Tuesday warned Filipinos to be vigilant against skin whitening products sold online as some allegedly contain dangerously high mercury content.
For years, advocates and government have made efforts to keep mercury-laden products at bay, but such goods still keep on popping up to meet the high demand.
“Since 2019 we continue to conduct testing and monitoring of these products, so every month... we have a list of products containing mercury and we check kung meron sila sa [online stores]. Some of them are available for short periods of time before they are removed,” said Jam Lorenzo of Ban Toxics’ Policy, Development and Research.
“Three months later andun na naman, so may kailangan tayong i-report. After the reporting, ma-re remove din sila. It is a continuing cycle.”
Mercury, a neurotoxicant, has bio-accumulative properties. If ingested, will stay in the body for a long time. It can lead to nephrotic syndrome, skin infections, loss of resistance to bacterial and fungal infections.
When taken at high levels, it can also lead to miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, low birth weight, and neurological disturbances.
The products, when discharged into wastewater, can also enter the food chain and be consumed by humans.
According to Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), in 2019, out of 158 samples purchased from 12 countries, 95 were found to violate the 1 ppm (parts per million) mercury limit, where some were found to have 40 ppm to over 130,000 ppm.
Some of the skin whitening products from the Philippines bought online were found to have 48-131,567 ppm.
Lorenzo said another key challenge is tackling platforms with unregulated systems of selling.
“'Yan ang mahirap since katulad ng FB (Facebook) Marketplace, these are just individuals selling items. 'Di naman sila registered stores in the first place and it will be unfair to impose these kinds of registrations… we are reviewing the best practices that are employed not only in the Philippines but abroad so we can come up with a synthesized na solution,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration has advised the public to check the ingredients indicated in the product packaging.
They said however violative manufacturers of skin whitening products often rename, or just partially print the ingredients list.
“Check for cosmetic product notification using the FDA verification portal,” said FDA food-drug regulation officer Cheryl Lynn Tan.
“If you see a cosmetic product that only has a product name but the ingredient list is not there or directions for use, maybe steer clear of those products.”
FDA’s verification portal is https://verification.fda,gov.ph/Home.php
ZMWG meanwhile recommended “online platform liability reform” as a “strategy to prevent illegal and unsafe product sales.”
“This is something that all countries must pursue. Illegal and unsafe online product sales is a wider problem,” ZMWG international co-coordinator Elena Lymberidi- Settimo said.