Emphasis on diversity: NGO calls on beauty industry to help combat illicit sales of whitening products

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

EcoWaste Coalition is calling on the beauty industry aid its fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products. ©GettyImages
EcoWaste Coalition is calling on the beauty industry aid its fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products. ©GettyImages

Related tags Skin whitening Safe cosmetics adulterated cosmetics

Non-profit public interest group EcoWaste Coalition is calling on the beauty industry aid its fight against the sale of adulterated whitening products by emphasising beauty in diversity.

Based in the Philippines, the EcoWaste Coalition routinely campaigns to raise public awareness on chemicals in products, wastes and surroundings that can jeopardise human and environmental health.

Among the many adulterated cosmetics in that plague its country, so-called ‘skin whitening’ products have been one of the most persistent problems faced by the watchdog group.

“The prevalence of adulterated whitening products is one of the biggest problems being faced by regulators, consumers and by watchdog groups like the EcoWaste Coalition. Despite the sustained efforts of the FDA to address this problem, it just never seems to go away,”​ said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

New stance on an old issue

Previously, to combat the sale of illegal and toxic whitening products, the EcoWaste Coalition has always highlighted the dangers of ingredients such as mercury.

However, it has recently focused its efforts of trying to change the perception of beauty among consumers to combat the problem, calling on them to “embrace and take pride in their natural skin tone”.

Dizon believes this issue ultimately boils down to the belief that darker skin is “unattractive and undesirable” ​and changing this notion is the only way to bring about lasting change,

“If we are able to alter the people’s mindset, we think there will be less supply and demand for hazardous skin whitening products in the marketplace such as those laden with toxic mercury and hydroquinone,”​ said Dizon.

He suggested that the beauty and personal care industry can use their wide reach to help groups like the EcoWaste Coalition to appeal to consumers on the beauty in skin tone diversity.

“Perhaps the industry and the civil society can sit together to come up with effective messaging strategy that will emphasize that diversity in beauty matters, and that the whiteness or darkness of one’s skin colour does not make one more or less human, successful or beautiful.”

Skin whitening products are continually in demand in Asian countries like the Philippines, where a lighter complexion is still the standard of beauty in Asia.

This relentless pursuit for fair skin has driven consumers to take the unnecessary risks of using tainted products despite the repeated warnings by government authorities and groups like the EcoWaste Coalition.

“This obsession, we believe, was influenced by our colonial past. The desire for lighter skin was further embedded in our culture by the beauty standards set by cosmetics, media and entertainment industries,”​ said Dizon.

Without action, Dizon fears that many consumers will continue to fall prey to adulterated cosmetic products and treatments.

Instead of ingredients like vitamin C derivative ascorbic acid, these illegal cosmetic products contain mercury, which inhibits the production of melanin. However, long-term exposure to mercury can result in organ damage.

According to Dizon, some have even resorted to taking glutathione pills or undergoing glutathione IV treatments, which can have toxic effects on the liver, kidneys and the nervous system.

“To achieve a fairer skin tone, many people would not mind using chemically laced whitening products. It’s unfortunate that many still see flawless and whiter skin as a ticket to success in love, life and career.”

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