Some recorded concentrations of mercury up to 44,540 parts per million (ppm), way above the legal limit of 1 ppm, claims the campaign group EcoWaste Coalition.
The group, which has been tracking the unlawful trade in mercury-added cosmetics since 2011, is calling for immediate action by health product and customs regulators to stop the illicit trade.
They detected mercury in specific components of the eight Thai skincare sets sold by local online sellers.
The organisation says X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) screening found high levels of mercury in Lady Gold Seaweed Glut a/Super Gluta Brightening with 44,540 ppm (beige cream), five variants of Dr. Yanhee Facial Creams with 19,200 ppm (purple cream), 19,000 ppm (green cream), 11,830 ppm (pink cream), 9,460 ppm (purple cream) and 8,600 ppm (burnt orange cream); White Nano with 15,900 ppm (yellow cream), and Meyyong Seaweeds Super Whitening with 3,784 ppm (green cream).
“As member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and as parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury, we urge both the Philippines and Thailand to take urgent measures to stop the manufacture, import or export of cosmetics containing mercury,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“As both countries are obligated to comply with the requirements of the ACD and the Minamata Convention, we expect concerned health and customs authorities to ramp up actions that will protect human health and the ecosystems from mercury use in cosmetics,” she added.
Under the ASEAN Cosmetic Directive (ACD), member states agreed to ban mercury and its compounds as part of the composition of cosmetic products and set a maximum limit of 1 ppm for mercury as a heavy metal contaminant in cosmetics.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which Thailand acceded to in 2017 and which the Philippines ratified in 2020, stipulated a phase-out deadline by 2020 after which the manufacture, import or export of cosmetics with mercury content above 1 ppm shall not be allowed.
EcoWaste Coalition pointed out that 2021 national report submitted by the Philippine government to the Convention Secretariat stated: “the manufacture, importation, distribution and selling of cosmetic products which contain mercury is prohibited.”
On the other hand, the Thai government in its report said it “conducted market surveillance of cosmetic products for skin whitening, to screen for banned mercury by revised Ministry of Public Health Notification on determination of substances prohibited to use as ingredients in cosmetic production.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “adverse health effects of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening creams and soaps include: kidney damage, skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.”
Mercury in soaps, creams and other cosmetic products is eventually discharged into waste water. The mercury then enters the environment, where it becomes methylated and can enter the food chain as highly toxic methylmercury in fish, said the WHO, warning further that “pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury can transfer the mercury to their foetuses, which can result in neurodevelopmental deficits in the children.”
EcoWaste Coalition is now calling for parties to the Minamata Convention to strengthen the treaty implementation by tightening customs controls, intensifying market surveillance, including in online shopping platforms, and charging violators of the ban on mercury-added cosmetics.