The Philippines toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition has issued an alert on 2 made-in-Thailand underarm whitening creams which have been found to contain mercury.

According to the chemical screening conducted by the group, Snow White Armpit Whitening Underarm Cream and 88 Total White Underarm Cream, which the group bought online, contained mercury above the 1 part per million (ppm) trace amount limit under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD) and the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

Both products were manufactured in November 2022 as indicated on their labels, and both products enticed consumers with the promise of reducing body odour, while providing a whitening effect and smooth skin tone.

“Like the mercury in some skin whitening and anti-ageing facial creams, mercury in underarm creams could pose serious health effects not only to those who directly use them but also to their families, especially young children, who might inhale the mercury vapours from the contaminated products or get exposed by using towels and other items tainted with mercury,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

According to the World Health Organisation, exposure to the inorganic mercury in skin lightening products may result in kidney damage, skin rashes, discolouration and scarring, reduced skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, as well as anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.

The EcoWaste Coalition urges cosmetic manufacturers to abide by the ACD and the Minamata Convention’s 2020 global phase-out of mercury-added cosmetics such as skin lightening products with mercury content above 1 ppm.

The group is also calling on cosmetic regulators to strengthen compliance and enforcement strategies to rid the marketplace, including online shopping platforms, of skin lightening products contaminated with mercury and other hazardous substances.

Consumers are advised to reject chemical whiteners and unlearn the fixation with white skin. Celebrate and love your natural skin colour. True beauty is not determined by your skin tone.