Consumers, beware. A Thai-made facial cream has been found to be contaminated with mercury, the Philippines toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition reveals.

The product, 4K Plus 5X Whitening Cream, was loaded with 3,058 parts per million (ppm) of mercury in violation of the trace amount limit of 1 ppm for mercury in such cosmetics under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive.

Mercury use in cosmetic products can have adverse effects on human health, including skin rashes (contact dermatitis and acne), discolouration and scarring, and skin’s reduced resistance to bacterial and mycotic skin disorders. There may also be damage to the brain, the nervous system and the kidneys with repeated applications of mercury-contaminated products.

According to the Ecowaste Coalition, 4K Plus 5X Whitening Cream was manufactured in 2023, a few years after the global phase-out in 2020 on the manufacture, import or export of mercury-added cosmetics such as skin lightening products under the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

“All useful ingredients in 4K Plus 5X can make a miracle like brighten and clear the skin within 1 week,” the product label says, but there is no mention of its mercury content and its effects on health and the environment.

According to the World Health Organisation: “Mercury in soaps, creams and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into waste water. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and can enter the food chain as highly toxic methylmercury in fish. Pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury can transfer the mercury to their fetuses, which can result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children.”

This is not the first time that beauty products from Thailand have been found to be laden with mercury. To date, the EcoWaste Coalition has detected 15 skin lightening products from Thailand, representing 10 brands, with breached levels of mercury. Most of the products were sold on online shopping platforms.