THE Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that its tests have found amounts of mercury in five skin-lightening products of the country’s third-largest cosmetics company L’Oréal India.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the presence of mercury in skin-lightening products can lead to kidney damage and a range of skin ailments.
Test reports of the Maharashtra drug regulator show the presence of 0.6 parts per million (ppm), 1.02 ppm, 1.69 ppm, 1.87 ppm and 2.38 ppm of mercury, respectively, in L’Oréal’s Garnier Men Power Light Intensive Fairness Facewash, Garnier Men Power Light Sweat+Oil Control Fairness Moisturiser, L’Oréal Pearl Perfect Fairness+Soothing Cream/Night, L’Oréal Pearl Perfect Fairness+ Moisturising Cream/Day and L’Oréal Pearl Perfect Re-Lighting Whitening Facial Foam.
The tests on the five L’Oréal products, which were manufactured at the company’s Chakan plant in Pune, were done in April this year. As per the The Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945, “no cosmetic containing mercury compounds shall be manufactured” in India.
Consequently, the state FDA — after testing the products through the Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) method — has deemed the products as “adulterated” in its test reports after finding considerable amounts of mercury.
The French cosmetics major has, however, maintained that mercury levels in their products were below detectable levels. “This report by the Maharashtra FDA dated April 2016 is in total contradiction with the test we conducted jointly with them and the multiple tests we have done with independent laboratories in India, France, Germany, Japan and Singapore. Mercury traces were below detectable levels in all of the tests,” the L’Oréal India spokesperson said in response to a query by The Indian Express.
“As a responsible company, we of course do not use mercury in our products in India or anywhere else in the world. We have challenged this last FDA report and the methodology used and are awaiting a report from the Central Drug Laboratory (CDL) in Kolkata. We will continue to work closely with the FDA to clarify this discrepancy,” the spokesperson said.
According to a WHO report of 2012, “Mercury salts inhibit the formation of melanin (the skin pigment which gives human skin its colour) resulting in a lighter skin tone… The main adverse effect of the inorganic mercury contained in skin lightening soaps and creams is kidney damage. Mercury in skin lightening products may also cause skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections. Other effects include anxiety, depression or psychosis and peripheral neuropathy.”
The WHO report had also stated that in India, 61 per cent of the dermatological market consists of skin-lightening (fairness) products.
Confirming the test results of the five L’Oréal India products, Maharashtra FDA commissioner Harshdeep Kamble told The Indian Express: “We keep testing the samples of products, irrespective of the companies — big or small. After it were found not of standard, the recall order was given by our drug inspector. The recall order were for those particular batches which were found substandard. The case has now gone to CDL, Kolkata. I can’t say when the CDL results will come.”
A L’Oréal press release of January had claimed that it is the fastest growing beauty company with a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of above 21 per cent over the last seven years and representation in 7,50,000 points of sale.
By the year 2020, L’Oréal aims to have a client base of over 15 crore people in India — four times more than what it was at the beginning of 2016. According to information submitted by the company to Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), the total sales of finished goods in 2013 amounted to Rs 2,026.7 crore. In the 15-month period of January 2014 to March 2015, total sales increased to Rs 2,968 crore.