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Sold by online stores in India, 'dark truth' of made in Pakistan skin whitening creams

By Our Representative 

Dangerously high levels of mercury, a heavy metal and neurotoxin, were found in imported skin whitening creams being sold in Indian markets, Toxics Link, a well-known environmental research and advocacy non-profit, has said in its latest report “Dark truth of skin whitening creams: Presence of Mercury in skin whitening creams”.
Based in Delhi, Toxics Link is part of the global alliance of Zero mercury Working Group (ZMWG) and claims to be involved in the mercury policy project. ZMWG is an international coalition of more than 110 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from over 55 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mercury is hazardous to health and has the potential to cause damage to the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal system and the kidneys. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has also shown concern over the fact that mercury bio-accumulates in the body tissue and its long-term exposure can have impact to the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system particularly, in unborn children and babies
The NGO research team enlisted 15 skin whitening creams of different brands manufactured in India, Pakistan and Philippines. The samples were collected from different cities of India, Mumbai, Vijayawada, Delhi and Trivandrum, and tested in the Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, New Delhi, using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) by a standardized method.
The study detected mercury in six out of 15 samples. Five samples had alarming levels of mercury ranging from 4,000 to 14,000 ppm. Only one out of six samples had mercury concentration below 1 ppm, i.e., 0.3 ppm. The samples were purchased from Gaffer market in Delhi, Vashi in Navi Mumbai and Tarapet Market in Vijayawada.
The study also revealed that all the six samples containing mercury were manufactured in Pakistan, according to the labels in the packaging. Moreover, the test results revealed that all the samples manufactured in India had mercury below detectable limits.
In India, there is a stringent regulation, under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 2020, to prevent mercury from being added to cosmetics. Manufacturing and import of cosmetics containing mercury compounds are completely prohibited; but unintentional mercury is allowed up to 1 ppm. However, the study regretted, the mercury-containing products are still available in the Indian market. India has also ratified the Minamata convention on Mercury which restricts mercury use in cosmetics to 1 ppm.
Said the study, it is disturbing that the mercury concentrations in some of the imported samples were found to be as high as 1,000 times more than the current permissible limit of 1 ppm. Significantly, a previous study by Toxics Link in 2019 had also reported high mercury concentrations in same brands, it added.
The 6 samples in which mercury was reported were imported creams from Pakistan, available in online portals like Amazon and Flipkart
The 2019 samples were purchased from the online portals Amazon and Flipkart. The study also found that, apart from these brands, other high mercury containing brands manufactured in the countries like China, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia were also found to be available in India through these online portals.
Thus, it is clear that the mercury-laden creams are easily available in the country and are being sold both in offline shops and on online portals despite the strict regulations in place to contain mercury in cosmetics, the study said.
“Availability of highly toxic and non-compliant products in shops and on online portals are serious breach of the national rules and need to be acted upon immediately by the regulators” said Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link.
The use of these products could result in severe health risks. Therefore, there is an urgent need for periodic monitoring of imported skin whitening creams by the regulatory authorities, to safeguard the health of the consumers. “A proper surveillance system needs to be in place to prevent high mercury-containing toxic skin whitening creams to be imported to India.” said Piyush Mohapatra, senior programme coordinator, Toxics Link.

Key findings

  • Mercury was reported in six out of fifteen skin whitening cream samples purchased from Mumbai, Delhi, Trivandrum, and Vijayawa
  • Five samples were found to contain very high mercury concentrations (4000 to 14000 ppm)
  • One sample had a mercury concentration of 0.3 ppm, i.e., below the permissible limit of 1 ppm
  • All the six samples in which mercury was reported were imported creams from Pakistan and are also available in online portals like Amazon and Flipkart
  • All the Indian manufactured brands are within the safe limit of 1 ppm of mercury.

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