Obsessed with whiteners
The Health Department’s Food and Drug Authority issued last week a memorandum ordering that 23 skin whitening creams from China with high levels of mercury be pulled from retail shelves across the country.
Sadly, the crackdown on the whiteners and stores that now face closure if they don’t heed the order, came only after the EcoWaste Coalition, a private watchdog group, found through tests in Manila that at least 11 whitening products contained high levels of mercury.
How many consumers now suffer from skin rashes, brain damage, hearing impairment, eye irritation, diarrhea and increase in blood pressure after using the creams?
Some of these had mercury content of 28,600 parts per million, way beyond the FDA standard of 1 ppm for cosmetics.
The Bureau of Customs may be answerable for not being alert enough to block the entry these harmful products.
But we also take to task the Food and Drug Authority for not being proactive in sniffing out these beauty enhancers that put a whole new spin on the statement “looks can kill.”
The Health Department should not only make good on its threat to suspend the operation of or shut down stores that sell these poisonous skin whiteners but also regularly do the rounds to spot and excise from the market harmful cosmetics and other products.
Filipino consumers, meanwhile, need to look at themselves in the mirror, literally and figuratively, to exorcise themselves of this vestige of colonial subservience which holds that only the fair-skinned are entitled to the adjective “beautiful.”
The hysterical rush to whiten skin illustrates how low our collective esteem has sunk since the days when Francis Magalona, the late rapper, sang “Bilib ako sa kulay ko/ Ako ay Pilipino/ Kung may itim o may puti/ Meron namang kayumanggi,” and encouraged appreciation, not envy of other people’s skin color in the song “Kaleidoscope World.”
This global colorism or obsession with light complexion—skin whitening was a $43-billion industry as of 2008—appeared sublimated domestically when dark-skinned actors were inevitably cast in comic roles.
But doesn’t colorism play a role, perhaps in the continuing economic depravation of our dark-skinned indigenous compatriots who comprise at least 20 percent of the population?
Doesn’t colorism—even without mercury in whitening creams—make more of us vulnerable to skin cancer in this age of global warming, since dark complexion is generally less prone to cancer?
It’s a pity that as we celebrate our language and our heroes this month, many Filipinos have been found alienated by the natural color of their skin.