In an effort to combat harmful cosmetic practices, the governments of Gabon, Jamaica, and Sri Lanka have teamed together and launched a joint US$14 million project to get rid of mercury in skin-lightening products.
In many parts of the world, cosmetics have been used for millennia to restrict the body’s production of melanin, making the skin seem lighter. However, this technique is still hazardous today. Both men and women use skin lightening solutions to treat acne, erase freckles, blemishes, and age spots in addition to whitening their skin. While many of these products contain mercury, a dangerous element that endangers human health and pollutes the environment, consumers frequently aren’t aware of this.
Skin-lightening products can harm the mental, digestive, and immune systems, as well as result in anxiety and sadness, skin rashes and discoloration, scarring, and immune system damage. Mercury in skin lightening cosmetics is restricted to 1mg/1kg (1ppm) by the Minamata Convention on Mercury. However, a 2018 test by the Biodiversity Research Institute and Zero Mercury Working Group on more than 300 items from 22 countries revealed that 10% of skin lightening creams surpassed this limit, with many of them carrying up to 100 times the permitted quantity.
led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Biodiversity Research Institute, and supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) (BRI), The Eliminating Mercury Skin Lightening Products project aims to lower the risk of exposure to skin lightening products that contain mercury by increasing public awareness of the health risks connected to their use, creating model regulations to reduce their circulation, and stopping their production, trade, and distribution across domestic and international markets.
Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF, stated that “Mercury is a hidden and poisonous element in the skin lightening creams that many people are taking everyday, often without realizing just how dangerous this is.” This program is crucial because it focuses on raising awareness about behaviors that are hazardous to both individual health and the environment, in addition to finding alternatives for dangerous chemicals.
Skin lightening products not only endanger the user; they can also expose children through breast milk and damage food chains when cosmetics are flushed into wastewater. Additionally, the substance can disperse widely, collecting in the ground, water, and soil without degrading in the environment. The use of hazardous substances in skin lightening treatments is a global problem given that demand for these products is expected to increase to US$11.8 billion by 2026, driven by a growing middle class in the Asia-Pacific area and shifting demography in Africa and the Caribbean.
Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division, stated that the use of mercury in skin-lightening cosmetics was a severe public health concern that required attention. Despite the Minamata Convention’s restrictions on mercury usage, she noted, “businesses continue to produce, trade, and sell harmful products to people.” UNEP is honored to collaborate to reform the sector with these three nations and a passionate group of co-financing partners.
Mercury is one of the most concerning pollutants for human health, and the WHO recommends for immediate action. More people should be aware of the health effects of mercury today because they have long been known, according to Dr. Annette Prüss, acting director of the WHO Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health. “Countries should move quickly to take legal action against illegal activities so that this hazardous component is removed from skin lightening cosmetics that people use on a daily basis. ”
The three-year project will bring the nations together to align their policies on the cosmetic industry with best practices, create an environment that will allow mercury to be phased out, and try to change broader cultural norms regarding skin complexion by involving organizations, healthcare professionals, and influencers who work in the area. The Pantheon of Women Who Inspire, a project co-financier, was founded by Sema Jonsson. She stated that the organization wants individuals to respect and be proud of their natural skin tone. We are all lovely, Jonsson declared. Not despite, but rather because of, our skin. “We need a new standard to aspire to, one that values humanity rather than skin color.”
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