Skin whitening creams with mercury make their way all over the world, and sellers are able to get away with it due to poor government safety controls in many places. Online sales also make it easy to completely avoid detection and checks.

There’s something about seeing something in print that leads us to believe what it says without question. And why not?

Why would anyone go through the trouble of making a product, putting it in a nice jar, and spending money on advertising, only to lie about what the product contains?

And besides, don’t governments take care of making sure all the listed ingredients are correct?

In a perfect world, we would not have to worry about deceptive labeling on the products we buy and use.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that is far from perfect.

Poor safety controls are the norm in many countries, and online sales make it easy to avoid detection

Many countries have poor safety controls when it comes to products manufactured locally.

Manufacturers also know this well. Should they wish to include ingredients like mercury into a skin cream, all they have to do is to place an order with an unscrupulous supplier to mix the ingredients for them, package it and stick on whatever labels they want.

Mislabelling creams would be very easy as no government authority is going to chemically test them.

Even if someone from a government body came to inspect the premises and goods, it’s a common practice in many countries for government officials to accept bribes in exchange for a “pass”.

After which the goods can be freely exported to other countries, where they face a small risk of being rejected by the customs officials at the port (many countries only conduct random chemical testing on imports).

Once the goods have arrived, resellers and small retailers can also completely bypass customs officials by selling online and then shipping directly to unsuspecting users all over the world.

What can you do?

Fortunately, there are ways you can protect yourself from being sold mislabelled and potentially dangerous products.

  • Do your homework. Before buying something, check online for any red flags. Does the brand have a good website with content and contact information? Does the contact information work? What do most user reviews say about it?

    If you find little to no reliable information, this is a red flag.

  • What do they claim? Most legitimate skin products work slowly and may not be completely effective for everyone. Thus, watch out for outlandish claims such as “100% guaranteed” and other such nonsense.

    Also be wary of photoshopped images and before-and-after ads. They’re often used online because they’re an effective bait for sales, but legitimate products from large reputable brands rarely use them as they may face legal consequences for using fake photos in advertising.

  • What are their sales channels? Manufacturers selling creams with banned substances like mercury know they cannot sell their products through legitimate channels such as licensed distributors and large established retailers.

    So they stick to easier and “looser” methods such as pure online sales and multi-level marketing (MLM).

    If the product you’re thinking of buying is only sold online or through social media, and it has no proper certifications from the country of manufacture and scant information, then that is a sign that it may not be safe.

More information

Below are excerpts from a 2006 Reuters article you might find interesting and a little alarming.

Experts warn of dangers of ‘skin whitener’ cosmetics

“In Hong Kong (and in Taiwan), there are no strict rules for product labelling and you can buy cream that says it is mercury-free, but when we examine it, it is full of mercury,” said Christopher Lam, a professor of chemical pathology at the Chinese University. While drugs are regulated and need to pass trials proving their efficacy and safety before they are sold, there is little governance over cosmetics here.

“There are no regulations requiring manufacturers to prove their cosmetics are effective, so you can claim anything you want,” said Allen Chan, chemical pathology assistant professor at Chinese University.

In a study of 38 skin whitening creams in 2000, Lam and his colleagues found that eight of them contained excessive mercury. One exceeded limits used in the United States by 65,000 times! Five were made in China and three in Taiwan.

“When we did an x-ray of the offending cream, it didn’t allow the x-ray to go through. It was radio-opaque,” said pathologist Michael Chan at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

The experts called on consumers to be more skeptical about cosmetic company promises to whiten their skin.

“We do not know of any ingredient (used in cosmetics) that is effective and that has proven long-lasting effect in whitening the skin,” said Lam. “There is not much that cosmetics can do, to improve (whiten) the complexion.”

They called on consumers to use brands produced in countries with strict product labelling and which have good manufacturing practices, and to buy from reliable shops.

Governments must do their part, they said. “We should have import restrictions. Imports without good, certified labels should not be allowed in,” Lam said.

With manufactured skin-care products now under the microscope for traces of dangerous metals, women in Asia might find themselves turning to an age-old home remedy to temporarily whiten skin – yogurt, collagen (egg white) and rice powder.

Published 27 September 27 2006 (Read the original *dead link*.)