On the back of receiving 39 complaints from consumers, including 15 that claim that the discoloration remained even after they stopped using the product, the Kao Corporation made the decision to formally pull products from shelves on July 2.
The recall, which features products containing 4HPB, a synthetic compound, will affect Japan and 10 other Asian territories: Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The company has since received 15,000 calls on a toll-free service set up to deal with questions about the recall.
A Kanebo spokesman described the defective products as causing the appearance of white blotches on the skin in areas where whitening products have been applied, such as the face, neck, hands and arms.
On the matter, Yamada Shinji, corporate PR manager, stated: “It has been confirmed that in most cases the symptoms have gone away or are in the process of going away after the affected person stops using the whitening product.”
“However, there are several cases where only a brief time has elapsed since suspension of use and other cases that are being monitored to see how they progress. We must clarify the mechanism and a possible causal link between Rhododenol and the symptoms as soon as possible," he added.
Kanebo has stated that it plans to cover the treatment costs for any customers who have had their symptoms diagnosed and has also advised consumers to stop using the products and to seek help from a dermatologist if they develop any complaints.
The company first received reports of the products’ side effects on May 27 when a dermatologist contacted them with the information that several customers had developed white patches on their skin after using the products.
By June 14, Kanebo had uncovered 29 cases. On June 29, it submitted a research report to the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency.
A total of 4.36 million units marketing between 2008 and last April are being withdrawn, with the total cost expected to be as high as ¥5 billion.
Kanebo has announced that products sold in mainland China will be included in the recall.
The 4HPB ingredient is not used in China, since it has not yet been approved on the continent, but the company is concerned that consumers may buy their cosmetics from agents or abroad and thus expose themselves to the contaminated products.
A high-up official in Kanebo said "We know that many mainland consumers may buy our products from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, or buy them through Taobao agents. So if the 54 skin-whitening products enter the Chinese mainland, they will also be recalled."
The company also said that they would offer compensation equal to the product's price for anyone who had purchased the tainted cosmetics in China.
Kanebo's products, including the recalled items, are sold in more than 2,000 Chinese shops.