The company has so far received nearly 7,000 calls related to patchy skin whitening caused by their cosmetic products, with 2,250 noting major depigmentation issues in multiple areas, in patches of more than 5cm or “clearly visible depigmentation on the face.”
The company formally approved a recall of cosmetics containing the ingredient 4HPB (Rhododendrol) on July 2 after consumers complained that it caused pale patches and vitiligo-like symptoms.
At the time, Kanebo had received 39 complaints about the product, including a number of customers whose symptoms had not abated even after they stopped using the skin whiteners.
Intends to send company representatives to visit every customer who has suffered
In a press release, the personal care brand stated that it has set up a task force headed by President and CEO Masumi Natsusaka, with the mission of caring for those who have experienced unfortunate skin problems after using their products.
The company has also stated that it intends to send company representatives to visit every customer who has suffered from these symptoms, and point out that visits have already been paid to more than 3,000 customers.
In an earlier release, the firm also said that it would cover treatment plans for any customer affected.
”Kanebo Cosmetics wishes to extend the deepest apologies to customers and everyone else involved for the major concerns this incident has caused.”
Earlier this month Yamada Shinji, corporate PR manager for Kanebo described the symptoms caused by the ingredient as: “the appearance of white blotches on the skin…in areas where whitening products have been applied such as the face, neck, hands and arms.”
He also advised those who had utilized the products to stop using them and to consult a dermatologist if they developed any adverse symptoms.
Shinji suggested that the company were still looking for a causal link between the cosmetics and the symptoms observed in customers.
The skin whitening market
Dr Alain Khaiat of the consumer care consulting organization Seers Consulting said that many cosmetics on the market use tyrosinase inhibitors like Rhododendrol to limit the production of melanin in the skin, but also that other products do not necessarily have the same safety issues.
Concerning the impact on the overall skin lightening market market, he suggested the recall's effect is likely to be small: "Consumers still need the product benefit, and they have a large choice of other products which, while not containing new ingredients, have proven safety record."
Regarding Kanebo's swift action in taking the product off the market, he said: "Personally I think the decision taken is very ethical and reflects highly on the company. It is never easy to make such a decision, since it not only impacts the company's P&L but also the company’s image."
The questionable ingredient
Kanebo’s website describes Rhododendrols as a “quasi-drug” active cosmetic ingredient derived from compounds taken from the bark of the white birch tree.
It is noted that it leads to a brightening effect by inhibiting the production of melanin. It does this by binding with tyrosinase before the tyrosinase has a chance to bind with tyrosine, in a process known as “competitive inhibition.”
It is also described as inhibiting eumelanin synthesis by lowering the amount and activity of enzymes involved in the process.
Kanebo has been utilizing the substance in products since approximately 2008, with over 250,000 consumers using cosmetics containing the ingredient.