Dangerous and often illegal cosmetics enter the EU due to a lack of online regulation

The report exposes the dark side of the cosmetics industry

A global report released today by the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) confirms that illegal mercury skin whiteners are also still entering the EU via major e-commerce befr.ebay.be and best.aliexpress.com.

Between 2017 and 2022, the ZMWG conducted three separate investigations, each time confirming continued global access to often illegal, mercury-rich skin lightening products (SLPs). Most of the sampled products were manufactured in Asia, particularly Pakistan (43%), Thailand (8%), China (6%) and Taiwan (4%), according to their packaging.

In our latest 2020-2022 sampling, twenty-three products were ordered from Belgium, from four different electronic platforms. Sixteen of them contained mercury. Twelve creams had a mercury content of between 1000-18,821 ppm.

The EU Cosmetics Regulation prohibits the placing on the EU market of cosmetic products containing mercury. In addition, the EU has the EU Safety Gate or Rapid Exchange of Information System (RAPEX), an EU alert system, which allows for a rapid exchange of information to monitor and prohibit the entry of unsafe consumer products for protect citizens. However, dangerous, toxic and often illegal mercury-added products still reach the hands of consumers.

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) said: “Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that needs to be effectively controlled. Internet platforms must prevent these illegal products from being sold on their sites and the EU should take steps to ensure this. “

Online liability reform is needed at EU and global level.

EU decision-makers need to ensure broad reach and clear definitions to strengthen enforcement of the Digital Services Act (DSA), which is currently under discussion. They need to clearly define the limits of the intermediary liability exemption for online marketplaces, given the worrying level of illegal online activity, such as the sale of unsafe products. Above all, they need to ensure that basic consumer protection and due diligence obligations apply to all intermediaries, regardless of their size. Clear obligations must be established in the markets to verify traders and conduct random checks on services and products. Authorities need to provide swift and more effective enforcement and remedies for consumers when their obligations under the DSA are not met.

Charline Cheuvart, Mercury Policy Officer at the EEB said: “Furthermore, the implementing measures must be maintained and strengthened by government officials and customs officials to ensure efficient and effective follow-up. Interactional cooperation, local, national and international, must also be guaranteed ”.

Mercury is used in skin lighteners because it inhibits melanin and results in a lighter skin tone. Regular use of mercury-containing SLPs can cause rashes, skin discoloration, and blemishes. Long-term exposure can damage the eyes, lungs, kidneys, digestive, immune and nervous systems.

137 countries have committed to abide by the Minamata Convention to phase out and limit mercury, including in cosmetics. A meeting for the parties to this convention will be held in Bali in late March to define measures to reduce additional mercury-added products and processes and to reduce releases and exposure to mercury.


Notes to the editor:

ZMWG 2022 report


On DSA – see https://www.beuc.eu/publications/digital-services-act-beuc-recommendations-trilogue-negotiations

Leave a Comment