Leading home product and cosmetic manufacturers, Unilever, Procter and Gamble and L’Oreal have been exempted from the list of companies manufacturing skin whitening cream in a recent survey conducted by Reuters.
According to the news wire, skin-whitening creams identified as containing potentially dangerous levels of mercury continue to be sold online more than seven months after a watchdog group raised the alarm, including on platforms run by eBay, Amazon.com and Alibaba.
The findings come at a time when skin lightening, a multi-billion dollar industry especially popular in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, is under renewed criticism for promoting light skin as a beauty ideal.
Many countries ban or restrict mercury in creams, which can damage the kidneys, brain and nervous system. An international ban on manufacturing products with mercury in them comes into effect at end-2020.
The Zero Mercury Working Group, an international coalition of non-governmental organizations, issued a report last November that found unacceptable levels of mercury in 95 skin-lightening creams out of 158 samples tested.
The tests looked for concentrations of mercury above 1 part per million, the level set in a 2017 global treaty, and found levels ranging from 1.9 to 131,000 ppm.
The samples were sold under more than 20 brand names, mostly by smaller manufacturers in developing countries that had been flagged by governments or in previous testing.
“Major global brands from the likes of Unilever, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble were not flagged and were not included,” Reuters added in the report.
It said ZMWG bought more than two-thirds of the creams online, including on Flipkart, majority-owned by Walmart; South Africa’s Bidorbuy; Nigeria’s Jumia; and Lazada and Daraz, which are both part of the Alibaba Group and operate in Southeast and South Asia, respectively, as well as on Amazon and eBay, the coalition said.
One month after its report came out, ZMWG said that eBay, Lazada and Daraz had pledged to remove its high-mercury product listings but had not done so, while Amazon removed products from its United States and European Union platforms, but not in India.