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They cause cancer! UNBS warns public on cosmetics containing mercury and hydroquinone

Some of the cosmetics containing mercury that UNBS says could increase the risk of damaging the developing foetus. (PHOTO/Courtesy)

KAMPALA – The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) has on August 22 advised the public to be cautious when purchasing cosmetic products from the market.

According to UNBS, cosmetics containing hydroquinone on the market have been smuggled into the country through various porous borders but are not cleared by UNBS as alleged by the public.

“It is advisable to buy such products from reliable and reputable sources such as registered pharmacies or established retail stores. We would like to urge the public to report cases of substandard products on the market on our toll-free line: 0800133133,” reads a statement from the UNBS website.

In 2016, UNBS banned the manufacture, importation and sale of cosmetics that contain mercury and hydroquinone.

The ban was effected after UNBS tested some cosmetics and were found to contain mercury exceeding the level permitted by the UNBS standards (US EAS 377-1:2013), while others contained potent ingredients like hydroquinone.

“Cosmetics are governed by a number of compulsory Uganda Standards including Uganda standard (US EAS 377-1:2013, which state that there shall not be any hydroquinone or mercury in cosmetics to be used for skin applications,” reads the statement in part.

The standard, however, states that 2% hydroquinone is permissible for cosmetics to be used on hair.

Hydroquinone and Mercury are the common active ingredient that are found in a number of skincare products. These ingredients are designed specifically to lighten or bleach the skin.

Hydroquinone has been banned in many countries like Japan, the European Union and Australia.

Research has established that hydroquinone is a carcinogenic or a cancer-causing chemical (yamaguchi et al, 1989). Hydroquinone has also been linked to the medical condition known as ochronosis in which the skin becomes dark and thick;

Studies also report that mercury is a “toxic heavy metal” that can lead to rashes, skin discoloration and blotching. Long-term exposure to high levels of mercury can also cause damage to the kidneys, as well as digestive and nervous systems and other vital organs.

“Use of cosmetics that contain hydroquinone and mercury probably explains why there is an increase in cases of cancer even among children. Mothers apply these chemicals on their skins and when children are suckling, they directly take it into their digestive system,” UNBS noted.

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