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 all the trouble of producing a product, packaging it in a nice jar, spend money on advertising and marketing, only to lie about what it actually contains?

And besides, doesn’t the government take care of making sure all the claims and listed ingredients are legit?

In a perfect world, the answers to these questions are yes and yes. But unfortunately, the world we live in is far from perfect.

Many countries have poor safety controls when it comes to the products manufactured locally. Manufacturers are also smart. Should they wish to include a banned or unsafe ingredient in a skin cream (like mercury), they know all they have to do is set up shop in one of these countries.

Once there, they’ll also be free to mislabel their creams, because guess what? No government authority there is going to chemically test them. They’ll be free to export them to other countries where they face the small risk of being rejected by the customs  (keep in mind that most countries only conduct random chemical testing on their imports).

Even worse, these shady manufacturers can also completely bypass customs officials by selling their products online and shipping them directly to thousands of unsuspecting people around the world.


So 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? What do most user reviews say about it?

  • What do they claim? Most skin whitening products work slowly and may not be completely effective for everyone. So watch out for claims such as 100% guaranteed and other such nonsense.

  • How are they being sold? Most fraudulent companies know they cannot sell their stuff through legitimate channels such as licensed distributors and established retailers. So they stick to easier and “looser” methods such as pure online sales and MLM (multi-level marketing).

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…”

“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. This will open a pdf file.)