Bromley trader fined following dangerous cosmetics seizure

Published Thursday, 18 October 2018

Bromley Trading Standards have prosecuted a local business following the discovery of dangerous cosmetics which contained restricted substances and were incorrectly labelled

On Wednesday 11 October 2018 Ghulam Mustafa, Director of Woolwich Sabina Hair and Cosmetics Limited, trading at 26 The Mall, Bromley appeared at Bromley Magistrates and pled guilty on behalf of the company to 19 charges under the Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regs 2013. He assured the court that all non-compliant products had been removed from sale and that he had appointed a designated compliance manager to ensure that products are properly monitored in future.

The magistrates gave credit for early guilty pleas and imposed fines of £9,120 and a victim surcharge of £170. Costs were awarded to the local authority of £4,063.  The offences came to light in February 2018 following a visit by Bromley trading standards officers working on a London wide trading standards project to tackling the distribution and sale of illegal skin lighteners and cosmetics.

Officers seized a quantity of cosmetics they suspected contained a banned or restricted substance, or were incorrectly labelled in breach of the regulations. Following further information from other trading standards teams in London a second visit was made in March 2018 resulting in further samples seized.

Ten samples of cosmetics were tested for the presence of banned or restricted substances as well as labelling infringements. The results indicated that two items contained the restricted substance Hydroquinone.  All samples failed the labelling requirements. Some listed preservatives amongst the ingredients which are not permitted.

Councillor Kate Lymer, Executive Councillor for Public Protection and Enforcement said, “I’m pleased that our trading standards officers are working with other trading standards teams across London to tackle this issue and we will look to protect Bromley’s consumers. Despite the fact that creams with Hydroquinone in are prescription-only in the UK, and need to be used under the strict supervision of a dermatologist, the market for bleaching creams containing Hydroquinone, steroids and mercury continues to thrive in Britain. It is difficult to know how large the market is due to the illegal nature of what is being sold but if Bromley residents come across further examples in our borough, they are encouraged to report the matter to Bromley Trading Standards via Citizens Advice consumer helpline. Traders are warned that we will take action where appropriate. If anyone is in any doubt they can contact us for advice.”

Cosmetic products must not contain Hydroquinone except for use as an oxidising colouring agent for dyeing hair at a maximum concentration of 0.3 per cent; or in artificial nail systems at a maximum concentration of 0.02 per cent after mixing. It must not be used on eyebrows and is for professional use only. Therefore the inclusion of it in a skin lightening cream which is on general sale to the public is unlawful.

Hydroquinone is prescribed to patients with hyperpigmentation where they present with patches of skin that are darker than their normal colour. It is used for a short period of time, perhaps a few months, to lighten the hyperpigmentation. When used correctly, under a dermatologist’s supervision, it is relatively harmless. However, Hydroquinone can cause dangerous side effects when not used correctly. It takes away the skin’s melanin, leaving people more prone to skin cancer. Eventually it leads to a condition called ochronosis – where a build-up of homogentisic acid in the skin causes the person to develop large blackish discolouration. Because this is the exact opposite of what people buy the cream for, they continue to use it in the hope that it will lighten the dark patches.

ENDS

Editor’s notes

The Citizens Advice consumer helpline number is 03454 04 05 06, with further information available on the Citizens Advice website.

The project was conducted under The Cosmetic Products Enforcement Regulations 2013 to enforce Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 on cosmetic products. Its purpose was to identify and remove from sale products containing banned substances, the misuse of restricted substances and products not complying with the labelling require. For the purposes of these prosecutions, the relevant articles are :-

  1. Articles 6(1)and (2) , requiring the distributor to act with due care and attention  in relation to applicable requirements and,  before making a product available on the market, verifying that the labelling information provided for in Article 19 is present.
  2. Article14(1)(b),  requiring that no products should contain restricted substances which are not used in accordance with the restrictions laid down in Annex III. 
  3. Article 14(1)(d) requiring that preservatives other than those listed in Annex V must not be included in products and those listed must be used in accordance with the conditions laid down in the Annex.
  4. Article 19 (1)(a) requiring that the container and packaging of products made available on the market must  bear the registered name and address of the responsible person and  the country of origin for imported products. The labelling must be clear and legible and in the language of the member state in which it is sold.
  5. Article 19(1)(c)  requiring the labelling to include  the date until which the product will continue to fulfil its initial function  i.e. the date of minimum durability, preceded by the prescribed symbol or the words “best used before the end of”. Where necessary it must give an indication of the conditions which must be satisfied to guarantee the stated durability.
  6. Article 19(1)(e), requiring the batch number of manufacture or the reference for identifying the cosmetic product. Where this is impossible for practical reasons because the products are too small, such information need only appear on the packaging.
  7. Article 19(1)(g) requiring the packaging to bear the list of ingredients, under the heading ingredients in descending order of weight where any concentration exceeds one per cent. Perfume and aromatic compositions and their raw materials must also be indicated in the list of ingredients.

Of particular concern was the distribution and sale of bleaching and skin lightening creams. These often contain steroids, which thin the skin to the extent that it gives the appearance of lightening; and mercury, which is potentially carcinogenic. One of the most dangerous ingredients contained in these creams is the lightening chemical Hydroquinone. Trading standards officers had comprehensive lists from the London Trading Standards safety group which identified cosmetics which were of concern.

Under Annex III of EC Regulation 1223/2009, cosmetic products must not contain Hydroquinone except for use as an oxidising colouring agent for dyeing hair at a maximum concentration of 0.3 per cent; or in artificial nail systems at a maximum concentration of 0.02 per cent after mixing. It must not be used on eyebrows and is for Professional use only. Therefore the inclusion of it in a skin lightening cream which is on general sale to the public is unlawful.