By: Raja Taimur Hassan
“Beware of extremely toxic ingredients of Skin Whitening Creams, which may cause cancer and can harm your brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.”
Islamabad: Now onward, if you are planning to apply any whitening cream on your skin, beware of extremely toxic ingredients of it, which may cause cancer and can harm your brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system.
A new research study by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) titled “Mercury Added Products: Exposure and Health Risks of Skin Whitening Creams (SWCs)” revealed startling facts of alarmingly high concentration of mercury contents in fairness creams.
Mercury is the third most hazardous substance of global concern and exposure to even small amount may cause serious health implications.
According to the study in some of the SWCs brands, the mercury contents level found as high as 20,000 ppm (parts per million) against the allowed limit of 1 ppm, which is criminal. Of total analyzed samples of SWCs brands, 60 percent noted fairness creams found with Mercury above the allowed limit of 1 ppm. Of which, 75 percent fairness creams were found with Mercury in the range of 5000 ppm to 20,000 ppm, which is highly dangerous to human health.
To lighten the skin, manufacturers use Mercury, as it reduces the Melanin production in human skin. Melanin is a natural substance that gives human skin, hair, and eyes their color. Dark skinned people have more melanin in their skin than light skinned people have.
The chemical scientist and senior advisor to SDPI on chemicals and hazardous wastes Dr. Mahmood A. Khwaja, who carried this research study, said that pregnant women and children of growing age are particularly at risk of getting mercury poison. It can hamper development of child neurological system, which in turn can cause diminishing memory and shorten attention span. No safe limit of use of Mercury is known, at the moment.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), Mercury in skin lightening products may cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. The main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage.
The issue is that we the Asians and particularly Pakistani society delineated more white skin as synonym to beauty and look down to dark skin. Thanks to media advertisements and campaigns in promoting beauty complexion. This beauty obsession is not just confined to women or gender specific. The growing trend of complexion can also be witnessed in males. To get the skin white, as a benchmark of beauty, the beauty obsessor can go to any extent, without caring the dire consequences.
Majority of us are unaware of other toxic ingredients of these whitening creams and negligible knowledge of their dreadful impact. These creams not only contain Mercury but also contain very high amount of other hazardous substances, such as steroids, hydroquinone and arsenic, which may act as carcinogen i.e. it can cause cancer.
We just need to satisfy ourselves with our skin color instead of risking our health by using these dangerous creams. With healthy skin one looks beautiful.
There are countries who realize early the dire consequences of Mercury containing products and ban such products, which exceed the permissible limit. In the European Union and numerous African nations, there is complete ban on distribution of mercury containing creams and soaps. Whereas, United States, Philippines and Canada impose ban on the skin lightening products with mercury levels exceeding the national regulatory limit of 1, 1 and 3 mg/kg, respectively.
However, Pakistan has yet to define a national standard of permissible limit for the use of Mercury in products. Owing to the shortcomings in the legislation and lack of legal regulatory framework, we have been witnessing mushroom growth of Mercury added products, particularly the cosmetic products in Pakistan. The solution lies in stringent regulations to control such products containing hazardous substances.
Pakistan is also among 128 countries who signed The Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. However, Pakistan has yet to ratify this convention.
There is dire need of mercury specific legislation, to protect public health, at the earliest possible. It is the responsibility of the government to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury at the earliest and should take necessary steps to govern this issue.
The government should do necessary legislation and direct immediately the concern institutions, i.e. Pakistan National Accreditation Council (PNAC) and Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), to define national standards of allowed limit for the chemicals in consumer products, including Mercury and should ban those products, which fail to meet those national standards.
For that the recently finalized and approved UNEP document on ‘Chemicals in Products (CiP)’ could be helpful in regulating chemicals added products, including mercury containing products and its enforcement by the national governments in their respective countries.
In addition to that the government should also advice Higher Education Commission (HEC) to revise the MBBS syllabus/curriculum for the needed additional information about cosmetics, especially fairness creams to be included for dermatology, and providing updating knowledge to the outgoing medical graduates.
Above all, public awareness needs to be raised regarding products that contain mercury and the risks associated with mercury exposure. The heavy responsibility also lies on the brands to educate their customers about the possible serious health implications as a consequence of using their products containing hazardous substances. At least, brands should mention the all ingredients including hazardous substances with their respective quantities, so that customers may make their choices.
The writer is Public Policy Analyst and work at Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad. He tweets at @taimur__ .
Note: The article first appear at Times of Islamabad. Here is below the link.