Toxic Skin-lightening Cosmetics
The fact that mercury is a common ingredient in skin-lightening cosmetics poses serious human health concerns. Furthermore, many cultures continue to use toxic cosmetics to lighten skin by suppressing melanin production. Luckily, global humanitarian organizations are now collaborating with several countries to ban toxic skin-lightening cosmetics.

The Harm of Toxic Skin-Lightening Cosmetics

Women and men both use skin-lightening cosmetics to lighten their skin, fade blemishes and freckles and treat acne. However, people who use these products do not realize the damage they can cause because they contain mercury. Toxic skin-lightening cosmetics can cause skin rashes, scarring and digestive, neurological and immune system damage.

Not only are those who use mercury-laden products at risk, but the toxic skin-lightening cosmetics harm children through breastfeeding and other family members when users wash off the products. The washed-off products contaminate the family’s food chain. Moreover, these washed-off products can travel far without breaking down, contaminating both soil and water.

Global Demand for Skin Lightening

The skin-lightening cosmetics industry is slated to grow to $11.8 billion by 2026. High demand stems from a growing South Asian middle class and changing demographics in the Caribbean and Africa. Although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bans cosmetics with mercury, it recently found mercury in numerous products that did not indicate its presence on their labels.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury

As more becomes known about the harm of toxic skin-lightening cosmetics, countries and global organizations are mounting campaigns to reduce or eliminate their use. Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka are collaborating as part of a $14 million comprehensive strategy to prohibit mercury from skin-lightening cosmetics and promote the beauty of all skin tones. Their Minamata Convention on Mercury strives to severely limit mercury in cosmetics.  This group set a limit of 1 mg/kg of mercury in cosmetics; however, tests have proved it is difficult to get compliance. In 2018, tests showed that 10% of 300 tested cosmetics in 22 countries exceeded the limit and worse yet, some exceeded the limit by 100 times.

Still, the Mimamata collaboration continues to work towards its goal. The Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-5) will have its fifth summit in Geneva, Switzerland during the fall of 2023.

World Health Organization and the Biodiversity Research Institute Leadership

The World Health Organization and the Biodiversity Research Institute are now collaborating with the governments of Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka. They are leading the effort for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)-led campaign “Eliminating Mercury Skin-Lightening Products.” This project hopes to eliminate skin-lightening cosmetics that include mercury by:

  • Assisting governments by creating new laws and regulations as well as strengthening those that already exist all in accordance with the Minamata Convention.
  • Improving national capabilities for evaluating and tracking skin-lightening goods.
  • Increasing awareness of the problem in the project nations as well as on a global scale.
  • Enlisting participants in the supply chain in an attempt to prevent the manufacture, sale and distribution of skin-lightening goods.

Moving Forward

The collaboration between Gabon, Jamaica and Sri Lanka and global partners in the “Eliminating Mercury  Skin-Lightening Products” campaign is significant and the fifth Minamata Convention should synergize global efforts to raise awareness of the harmful effects of skin-lightening cosmetics.

– Lauryn Defreitas
Photo: Flickr

Brands Addressing Global Poverty
Cosmetics is a booming industry, with an estimated value of $532 billion, it continues to grow. However, for a long time, many beauty brands have been associated with unconscionable practices as a means to drive profits and sales — such as the use of child labor and unethical sourcing of materials. However, brands addressing global poverty may have an impact not only on worldwide poverty but also on themselves.

Business Structure & Social Impact

In a joint study by The Donor Committee for Enterprise Development and Oxfam, researchers concluded that “business structure can influence the social impact of a company…,” meaning that how a business is operated, keeping the supply chain in mind, can have either positive or negative effects on the social environment that the business engages with.

Inclusive businesses aim to incorporate impoverished people into the supply chain — as suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and customers which encourages economic growth. For a beauty brand addressing global poverty, working with an inclusive business model in mind and working towards more ethical and sustainable practices in the industry — are crucial steps in uplifting and collaborating with emerging markets. Here are five beauty brands addressing global poverty, today.

5 Beauty Brands Addressing Global Poverty

  1. Human Nature: A beauty brand based in the Philippines with compassion at its core. Human Nature creates products with raw materials from community-based suppliers. Working with fair trade principles in mind, the brand ensures that it pays appropriate (sometimes above-market) prices for suppliers’ goods. Human Nature also pays its employees fair living wages to combat poverty in the region.
  2. The Body Shop: The Body Shop believes that business can be a force for good with the motto “Enrich Not Exploit.” The brand engages in ethical trade practices, where retailers and suppliers are accountable for the conditions of their workers. Part of The Body Shop’s global commitment is to help economically, vulnerable people find work. The brand also pledges to invest 250,000 hours of skill-building in the communities where it operates.
  3. L’Occitane: L’Occitane is an eco-friendly, beauty brand addressing global poverty through its philanthropic efforts. The brand maintains a key partnership with women in Burkina Faso who produce shea butter for certain products. L’Occitane provides literacy programs, business training and microcredit opportunities to support women’s leadership and economic empowerment. Since 2006, more than 26,000 women have benefited from the brand’s support.
  4. Karité: Founded by three sisters from Ghana — Karité specializes in ethically sourced shea butter, palm oil and coconut oil from Ghana. Manufacturing is located in New Jersey. This international partnership works with women-run, co-ops supporting economic activity in both Ghana and the U.S. The brand has developed various projects (e.g., the Shea for Soles Initiative) that benefit Ghanan communities. Karité observed the needs of the women who work on the co-ops, noticing that many only wore flip-flops. Subsequently, the brand launched a campaign to provide shoes to the workers.
  5. Conscious Coconut: Conscious Coconut is another international, beauty brand addressing poverty through its fair trade and sustainable sourcing practices. Working globally — growers and workers are paid fair wages, ensuring that employees in poor communities can meet their basic needs. Conscious Coconut advocates against the use of child labor and human rights abuse. Moreover, the brand cultivates close relationships with its suppliers to make certain that they have dignified working conditions. Packaging for the company occurs in Florida at the MacDonald Training Center — which gives work opportunities to adults with disabilities.

An Admirable Business Model

While not all brands follow the same principles that guide these five previously mentioned — each additional brand that joins the cause represents progress. As the world becomes more connected, the global economy plays an increasingly significant role in fighting global poverty. Brands like the five mentioned here are taking an admirable, active role in addressing their business objectives and global poverty, simultaneously.

Melanie McCrackin
Photo: Pixabay