Kanebo searches for source of mysterious "skin whitening" effect

By Chris BARKER

- Last updated on GMT

Kanebo searches for source of mysterious "skin whitening" effect

Related tags: Skin whitening, Cosmetics

As the number of complaints about its skin lightening products climbs to more than 7,000, Asian cosmetics giant Kanebo continues to search for the root cause of the phenomenon.

The trouble started for the company in July, when 54 product brands had to be recalled because of complaints from consumers that they caused irregular patches of lightening on the skin.

It emerged that all of the lines which were causing trouble contained the ingredient 4HPB, an artificial version of a compound normally taken from the bark of the white birch tree.

The company has assembled two teams- one of lawyers and one of dermatologists- to investigate the products’ ingredients and to puzzle out any corners which may have been cut on safety testing.

So far, Kanebo has ruled out contamination and claims that no changes were made to the formula of the main ingredient, which reportedly took eight years to develop and was tested on approximately 1,000 people during the process.

Slow response criticised

Kanebo were first informed of the possible danger to consumers in May, when they received word from a dermatologist that their products were causing irregular patches of white skin.

By June 14, the company had received 29 complaints from customers. The decision to announce the recall was made on July.

The timing of the company's decision has been criticized by the Japanese government, which was only informed of the problem in June and claims that Kanebo should have raised awareness sooner.

“In May, a clinic had reported skin damage possibly caused by a Kanebo product. The company should have made it public at that point at least,”​ Consumer Affairs Agency Secretary-General Hisa Anan told reporters earlier this month.

Kanebo executives claim that they needed time to properly asses the situation before they could make a decision. 

Progress of the recall

Out of 7,000 complaints, nearly 3,000 individuals who have used Kanebo’s products have confirmed symptoms, such as a patch of white skin more than 2cm wide, three or more “stains,”​ or blotches on the face. 

The number of people listed as having recovered, or that were on their way to recovery, was 1,622. 

So far, 632,841 items have been recalled from retail outlets, with the return rate on the numbers present in stores at 109.1 percent. However, despite over half a million individual pieces being returned by individuals, there are still an estimated 450,000 contaminated beauty products remaining in private possession.  

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