High mercury levels in skin whitening cosmetics, Sri Lanka

Very high levels of Mercury have been found in skin whitening creams available in the Sri Lankan market. Local EJO's state that Health Authorities should ban those poisonous creams and suggest consumers to beware of those products


A research [1] conducted by the Centre for Environmental Justice found very high levels of Mercury in many of the cosmetic products sold on the market.

See more...
Basic Data
NameHigh mercury levels in skin whitening cosmetics, Sri Lanka
CountrySri Lanka
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Other industries
Specific CommoditiesSkin whitening creams
Manufactured Products
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsNo information is available on how much of these products have been sold on the Sri Lanka market, neither on how many people have used them.
Level of Investment (in USD)unknown
Potential Affected Populationunknown
Start Date2013
Company Names or State EnterprisesFoshan St. Flora (United) Co., Ltd. from China
Athena (Guangzhou) Cosmetics Manufacturer Co., Ltd from China
Yen Skin Care from China
Puer Yongji Biological & Technique Co., Ltd from China
Chepak Homeo Lab from Pakistan
SciTech Healthcare Pvt Ltd from India
Relevant government actorsCosmetics, Devices and Drugs Authority (CDDA)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCenter for Environmental Justice (CEJ); IPEN; Toxic link
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Genetic contamination, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
OtherAll the potential environmental impacts are due to the manufacturing of products containing Mercury.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Other Health impacts
OtherContamination of mercury in blood can cause allergic reactions, skin irritation, or adverse effects on the nervous system. Clinical symptoms of over exposure to mercury include tremors, weakness, memory loss, dermatitis and impaired kidney function.

Moreover, due to their comparatively high affinity for proteins, the lead ions consumed bond with the hemoglobi (red"blood"pigment) and the plasma protein of the blood. This leads to inhibition of the synthesis of red blood cells and thus of the vital transport of oxygen. If the bonding capacity here is exceeded, lead passes into the bone marrow, liver and kidneys. Such intoxication"leads"to:

- Encephalopathy in the central nervous system (CNS)

- Disturbances in kidney and liver functions progressing as far as necrosis;

- Damage to the reproductive organs;

- Anaemia and many metabolic deficiency symptoms.
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Specific impacts on women
Project StatusUnknown
Development of AlternativesRecommendations put forward by the Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ):

- to make necessary regulations and gazette maximum permissible mercury level in the skin whitening cream

- to cancel the current toxic creams registered under the CDDA

- to direct the companies that involve in selling these contaminated creams to recall their products from the market

- to inform the public on the danger of using such contaminated skin creams.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Despite regulations there still is the presence of high level of mercury in cosmetics
Sources and Materials

Minamata Convention on Mercury
[click to view]

Cosmetics, Devices and Drugs Act No. 27 of 1980 and Cosmetics, Devices and Drugs Regulations – The gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Extraordinary) No. 378/ of 1985.
[click to view]


[1] H. Withanage, C. Rubesinghe. Mercury and Lead contamination in selected whitning cream samples found in Sri Lanka. Centre for Environmental Justice, Friends of the Earthe Sri Lanka. 2013
[click to view]

[3] Global Mercury Assessment 2013: Sources, emissions, releases, and environmental transport, UNEP, 2013
[click to view]

Hamann CR el al., Spectrometric analysis of mercury content in 549 skin-lightening products: is mercury toxicity a hidden global health hazard?. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Volume 70, Issue 2, February 2014, Pages 281–28 (accessed 22/06/2015)
[click to view]


[4] Article published on News.lk (the official government news portal of Sri Lanka): Sri Lanka Signs the Minamata Convention on Mercury (2013)
[click to view]

[2] PRESS RELEASE. CEJ demands CDDA fast action May, 2013
[click to view]

Cosmetics, Devices & Drugs Regulatory Authority Sri Lanka web site. It includes a database of all registered cosmetics and manufacturers
[click to view]

Other Documents

[click to view]

[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorCentre for Environmental Justice (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Paola Camisani (EJOLT team, Barcelona)
Last update13/07/2015