Warning about toxic face creams in Cape Town

25 Sep 2015 - 12:45

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People have been cautioned to avoid buying skin products containing harmful ingredients, which are being sold in Cape Town.

This warning came from Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, head of dermatology at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital.

A study revealed an alarming trend in the composition of internationally manufactured skin-lightening products sold in Cape Town.

The 2013 study, which set out to investigate active ingredients and countries of origin of popular skin-lightening products available in Cape Town, was published recently in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

Khumalo told Health24 that a team clinicians from Groote Schuur Hospital and a multidisciplinary team of academic scientists from the University of Cape Town were motivated to conduct the research after seeing patients with irreversibly damaged skin from skin lightening products.

27 of the 29 products tested in the study were purchased from informal vendors, and only 2 were purchased over the counter from a pharmacy. 22 of the 27 from informal vendors contained illegal ingredients.

Caption: Extra Clair Lightening Cream is one of the products tested for harmful products being sold in Cape Town (Image: Supplied)

“Not only did almost 80% (79.5%) of the 29 products tested contain illegal or banned ingredients, we discovered that many products combined more than one illegal ingredient,” said Khumalo.

The study suggests that potent and ultra-potent topical steroids in combination with mercury have become the leading ingredients in skin-lightening products.

Most (76.9%) of the 13 products containing steroids were combined with either mercury or hydroquinone or both.

She pointed out that a third of the tested products originate from Europe.

“The top 3 countries of origin of the tested products were: Italy (6), India (5) and Democratic Republic of Congo (5) which raises questions about whether South Africa has become a dumping ground for illegal cosmetics,” said Khumalo.

She called for improved international law enforcement and random testing to encourage industry compliance and help protect customers.

Khumalo, who heads the first Hair and Skin Research Laboratory (HSR Lab) locally and internationally, focusing on comprehensive hair testing and safety in cosmetic formulation, said she is not aware of any safe skin lightening products on the market in the country.

"[It is] best to avoid purchasing skin lightening products," she suggested.

A list of some of the products tested:

Extra Clair Lightening Cream

Beneks'Fashion Fair Plus Gel

Skin Light Spotless Cream

Anti-spot Soap

Extra Clair Huile Eclaircissante

Princess Medicated Beauty Cream

Top Complexion Cream

Betasol Lotion

Tenovate Cream

Miki Skin Lightening Cream


Esapharma Movate Cream

Epiderm Creme

Lemonvate Cream

Skin Light

Caro Light

G&G Teint Uniforme

Rico Complexion Cream

Peau Claire Creme de Beaute Traitante

Facial Fade Lightening Cream

Cuticura Antiseptic Ointment

Motivate Complexion Lotion

Last month, skin lightening creams were among more than R200,000's worth of unlicensed pharmaceutical products that were confiscated by the Hawks in the Durban CBD.

Article by NEWS24

‚ÄčImage By NEWS24