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Public reminded to watch out for unsafe beauty cream

  • 2003.04.17

Members of the public are advised not to purchase beauty cream of dubious origin or from unreliable sources, and in case of any abnormal reaction, consumers should stop using the cream at once.

The Customs and Excise Department today (April 17) made the appeal after investigations into a mercury poisoning case showed samples of a beauty cream "Santen" had high concentration of mercury.

samples of a beauty cream "Santen" had high concentration of mercury
(Source:The Customs and Excise Department)

The Department of Health (DH) received a notification of a mercury poisoning case involving a 29-year-old female Indonesian domestic helper in March 2003. The woman was treated and discharged from a public hospital in February. She returned to Indonesia soon after discharge.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the woman might have used the Santen" beauty cream. However, as the patient had already returned to Indonesia, the Customs was unable to confirm with her whether the cream was related to her illness.

The Head of the Consumer Protection and Prosecution Bureau of the Customs, Mr Cheung Sai-yan said, "In response to the information, officers of the Customs immediately conducted operations on the "Santen" beauty cream at various districts in the territory. As a result, officers seized seven boxes of 'Santen' beauty cream in a small retail shop selling Indonesian native goods in Sham Shui Po early this month."

Subsequent testing conducted by the Government Laboratory confirmed that the mercury content of the seized beauty cream was very high, ranging from 40 000 parts per million (ppm) to 44 000 ppm, whereas the tolerable limit of mercury content was just 1 ppm as specified in the safety standard GB7916-87 "Hygienic Standards for Cosmetics" of the National Standard of Peoples' Republic of China.

Such mercury levels would pose a high risk to users. Persons who have been applying the beauty cream on a regular basis are advised to consult their doctor.

According to DH, there has been no other reported case of mercury poisoning in 2003.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning may include hand tremors, visual or hearing loss, memory deterioration, irritability, and difficulty with sleeping. Mercury can damage the kidneys resulting in edema, particularly in the ankles and legs. Mercury can also be passed from the mother to her fetus resulting in impaired brain development.

"Customs investigation is continuing with a view to prosecuting the parties concerned for offences of supplying unsafe consumer goods under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance," Mr Cheung said.

The Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance carries a maximum penalty of a fine of $100,000 and an imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and $500,000 and two years' imprisonment on subsequent conviction.

For enquiries and complaints regarding unsafe consumer goods, consumers can write to the Consumer Protection and Prosecution Bureau, Customs and Excise Department on the 11th floor, North Point Government Offices, 333 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong or call the Customs Hotline 2545 6182.

Reprinted from : HKSAR Government web page