Toxic Mercury in Underarm Whitening Cream

Consumers, beware. A toxics watchdog group in the Philippines has found mercury in a product from Thailand, 88 Total White Underarm Cream that claims to whiten the underarm and minimise body odour.

The group, Ecowaste Coalition purchased 4 samples of the product and conducted a chemical screening on them. It found that all 4 samples contained mercury levels in the range of 2,486 to 3,130 parts per million (ppm), way above the maximum 1 ppm limit allowed.

“Mercury is not allowed as a cosmetic ingredient under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator of EcoWaste Coalition. “Consumers who have bought this product should immediately stop using it and seek medical advice.”

As indicated on the labels, the products were manufactured in 2021 and 2022 in blatant violation of the 2020 global phase-out of cosmetics containing mercury above 1 ppm as per the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Thailand acceded to the treaty in 2017 and the Philippines ratified it in 2020.

88 Total White Underarm Cream is the latest cosmetic product from Thailand found contaminated with mercury by the EcoWaste Coalition. Last November, the group exposed high levels of mercury in 8 Thai skin lightening cosmetics sold online: Lady Gold Seaweed Gluta/Super Gluta Brightening with 44,540 ppm (beige cream), 5 variants of Dr. Yanhee Facial Creams with 19,200 ppm (purple cream), 19,000 ppm (green cream), 11,830 ppm (beige cream), 9,460 ppm (pink) and 8,600 ppm (burnt orange cream); White Nano with 15,900 ppm (yellow cream), and Meyyong Seaweeds Super Whitening with 3,784 ppm (green cream).

“The presence of mercury-added cosmetics from Thailand in physical stores and in online shopping platforms is deeply concerning,” Lucero commented.

According to health experts, mercury in cosmetics such as skin lightening creams and soaps can be absorbed by the skin, causing damage to the kidneys, the brain and the nervous system. The use of such cosmetics may result in skin rashes, discolouration and blotching and loss of resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as anxiety, depression, peripheral neuropathy and psychosis. Pregnant women’s exposure to mercury may also affect the development of unborn babies.