OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to identify the presence of mercury in skin whitening products, and to identify products containing mercury with the concentration exceeding the limitation of 1 ppm.
METHODOLOGY: A total of 104 whitening products were selected from the market via random sampling technique. The mercury concentration was determined by accredited laboratory, and the results were later compared with the cosmetic guideline of Malaysia and the list of banned products issued by NPRA.
RESULTS: A total of 51.9% (n = 54) whitening products were found registered under the NPRA Quest system and remaining 48.1% (n = 50) were non-registered products. None of the whitening products listed mercury as an ingredient, but laboratory analysis showed 15.4% (n = 16) of the products contained mercury with the concentration exceeding the maximum limit of 1 ppm. A total of 87.5% of the whitening products (14 out of 16) containing high mercury concentration were non-registered products which were not registered in NPRA Quest system. The exceeded concentration recorded ranged between 1.81 ppm and 838 123 ppm. Besides that, 50% (8 out of 16) of the products were found in the list of banned products issued by the NPRA of Malaysia.
CONCLUSIONS: This study presents the status of cosmetic products, particularly the skin whitening products available in Malaysia market. Concern arises when some of the products were found to have presence of harmful substances such as mercury. Even though the presence of mercury in a cosmetic product can either be non-intentional or intentionally used by the manufacturer in the cosmetic formulation, the impact of the ingredient can cause health risk to the users.