Beware of mercury poisoning in pursuit of fair skin, says consumer group

CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the use of such products meant the mercury will be absorbed and accumulated in the body over years of usage. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the use of such products meant the mercury will be absorbed and accumulated in the body over years of usage. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Oct 8 — The next time you reach for a whitening face cream in hopes of fairer skin, think twice as many products being sold contain harmful substances especially mercury.

Penang Consumers Association (CAP) said it found mercury in samples of whitening face creams in Penang and Kuala Lumpur after conducting a survey on several brands.

CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said many of these products claimed to prevent freckles and give users a fairer complexion.

“These products promised a beautiful complexion while killing you,” he said in a press conference at the CAP office here.

In CAP’s testing of products in the market, nine samples were found to contain mercury that range from 0.7 to 44,148 ppm (parts per million).

Among the samples, CAP also found brands that were previously banned by the Health Ministry but were still easily found for sale.

“Mercury absorbed through the skin from lightening products can damage not only the skin, but the kidneys and the nervous system,” Mohideen warned.

He said the use of such products meant the mercury will be absorbed and accumulated in the body over years of usage.

“Even if you apply just a small amount on the face, you apply it every day for many years, some for 20 years and the mercury absorbed through your skin will remain in your body,” he said.

He cited a case in Japan where residents of a village suffered mercury poisoning due to discharge from a factory and the babies in the village were born defective, children suffered various physical conditions and some of them suffered mental breakdowns.

“Some of the people in the village went mad due to mercury poisoning,” he said.

Mohideen then criticised the Asian culture of “worshipping the West” and blamed this for many Asians’ obsession with fair and white skin.

“This is a colonisation of our minds, we think the whites are superior to us so Asians want to be white, this is a big disease that we must combat,” he said.

He said a survey conducted in Asia, Africa and Latin America found that 41 per cent of the respondents in Malaysia used skin lighteners.

He said 61 per cent if the respondents said they believed that they looked younger with a fair complexion.

“The survey found that many women use the products for an extended period of up to 20 years in some cases,” he said.

He called on the public to be careful when purchasing whitening creams and to examine the contents of the products before using it .

“Don’t buy just because the advertisement promises that you will be whiter than white,” he said.

He then urged the government to conduct spot checks at shopping malls and commercial complexes to make sure banned face creams are not being sold in these places.

“The government must also closely monitor all cosmetics containing dangerous substances that are widely sold in the market,” he said.

He said the onus is on the authorities to make sure such products are not readily available in the market instead of waiting for complaints from consumers or civil society groups.

“The government must strictly enforce bans on dangerous products and withdraw all cosmetics which are found to be dangerous,” he said.

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