HSA Alert: 18 Cosmetic Products Detected to Contain Potent Undeclared Ingredients Including High Levels of Mercury

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) is alerting members of the public not to purchase or use 18 cosmetic products that were tested by HSA to contain potent undeclared ingredients. Some of these products were found with high levels of mercury, including some which exceeded the permissible limit by over 27,000 times. Other potent ingredients found include hydroquinone and tretinoin, which could lead to serious adverse reactions. Please refer to Annex A of the pdf version for the names and pictures of the products.

2    The findings resulted from HSA’s regular product quality surveillance activities where health products marketed locally are sampled for testing. These cosmetic products were sold at retail outlets and on various online platforms purportedly for skin whitening and anti-acne, and were claimed to “improve complexion” and “even out skin tone”. HSA has initiated the recall of the affected products from retail outlets, and has directed the administrators of online sales platforms to remove web listings of the affected products.

Potent ingredients found in these products

3    Mercury is a toxic heavy metal and is prohibited for use as an ingredient in cosmetic products. Regular application of creams containing mercury could lead to rash, skin discolouration and blotching while long-term exposure to high levels of mercury in cosmetic products can cause serious health consequences, including damage to the kidneys, digestive and nervous systems.

4    Hydroquinone and tretinoin are potent ingredients used in western prescription medicines for treatment of skin conditions. These ingredients are prohibited in skincare cosmetic products and should only be used under strict medical supervision. Inappropriate use of hydroquinone could result in changes in skin colour and adverse skin reactions such as rashes, redness and burning of the skin. Tretinoin, when used inappropriately, could lead to redness and peeling of skin.

Consumer advisory

5    Consumers are advised to:

  • Stop using any of the 18 cosmetic products immediately and discard them as they contain high levels of mercury or other undeclared potent ingredients that can lead to serious adverse reactions. See a doctor if you are experiencing adverse effects.   
  • Be cautious when purchasing cosmetic products online or from unfamiliar sources, even if they are recommended by friends or relatives. You cannot be certain what these products contain, and where and how they were made. It is advisable to buy such products from reliable and reputable sources such as registered pharmacies or established retail stores, and their respective e-commerce platforms.
  • Be wary of cosmetic products that promises quick and miraculous results or carry exaggerated claims such as skin whitening within a short period of time. Such products may contain prescription medicines which should only be used under medical supervision, or contain dangerously high levels of toxic substances such as mercury that may harm you.

Advisory to sellers and suppliers

6    Sellers and suppliers are warned that:

  • The supply of these cosmetic products must be stopped immediately as they contain prohibited western medicinal ingredients or mercury at levels that exceed the permissible limits.
  • It is their responsibility to ensure that the cosmetic products they are selling are safe for use, do not contain prohibited substances, and comply with Singapore’s regulatory requirements including notifying HSA prior to sale and supply.
  • Anyone who supplies illegal health products is liable to prosecution and if convicted, may be imprisoned for up to 3 years and/or fined up to $100,000.
  • HSA will not hesitate to take enforcement actions against sellers and suppliers who peddle illegal health products.

7    Members of the public who have any information on the sale and supply of these cosmetic products may contact HSA's Enforcement Branch at Tel: 6866-3485 during office hours (Monday to Friday) or email: hsa_is@hsa.gov.sg.

20 APRIL 2018

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