FDA affirms regulations on mercury levels in cosmetics

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Tue, Jan 07, 2014 - Page 4

Following a recent report cautioning consumers that cosmetics bought online or abroad may contain mercury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday assured the public that the element’s concentration in such products is strictly regulated in Taiwan.

The caution was issued on Sunday by the Taipei City Department of Environmental Protection, which said that since each country has its own regulations on mercury content in cosmetic products, consumers could be exposing themselves to health risks by purchasing cosmetics from nations with laxer standards or quality control.

Although Taiwan limits the concentration of mercury in final cosmetic products to 1 part-per-million (ppm), the department said that with more Taiwanese shopping on Taobao.com — China’s largest e-commerce marketplace — and other foreign Web sites, consumers could unintentionally purchase toxic products.

The department cited a Hong Kong news report published late last year about a woman who suffered mercury poisoning after using a face cream she bought on Taobao. The cream’s mercury content was later found to be more than 35,000 times higher than China’s maximum allowable level (MAL), which is also 1ppm.

The FDA yesterday said that the use of mercury in the production of cosmetics has been banned in Taiwan since the early 1980s due to concerns about the metal’s neurotoxic properties.

However, in 2008, regulations were eased to allow 1ppm of mercury in the final cosmetic product, given the chemical residue that is unavoidably imparted during manufacturing, FDA official Yeh Meng-yi (葉孟宜) said.

Yeh added that the same limit is in place in the EU, Japan and South Korea.

When asked how Taiwan’s MAL differs from China’s, Yeh said the difference “lies in the principle.”

“While the outcome might be the same, Taiwan’s regulations state that no mercury can be ‘used’ at all in the production of cosmetics. The 1 ppm only applies to finished products and is an extremely low amount,” Yeh said, adding that the metal is allowed only in the form of non-deliberate residue.

In addition, China has relatively poor quality control, rendering the limit void most of the time, Yeh said, adding that between 2010 and last year, four of 37 cosmetic products deemed substandard after officials subjected them to heavy metals testing came from China.