Kampala. Uganda National Bureau of Standards and traders dealing in cosmetics have agreed to stop the importation and distribution of cosmetics that contain mercury and hydroquinone suspected to cause skin cancer.
Both parties met last week at the Ministry of Trade and signed a communique in which they agreed on six steps to ensure cosmetics with deadly substances are removed from the market.
“All cosmetics products containing prohibited substances, especially hydroquinone and mercury; and expired products are banned from importation, distribution, sale and use in Uganda. All importers shall follow the Pre-Verification for Conformity to Standards (PVoC),” a communique reads in part.
The communique was signed by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Trade, Ambassador Julius Onen, and the cosmetics traders and dealers at the ministry headquarters in Kampala.
Hydroquinone and mercury are skin-bleaching agents which were banned because of their numerous health effects on humans.
Most of the dangerous cosmetics are said to be imported from Democratic Republic of Congo, and are brought into Uganda through Mpondwe border post.
The meeting followed UNBS and police impounding prohibited cosmetics in different shops in the city centre.
Some of the affected cosmetics traders said they were not informed by UNBS about the new standards and that problem should be dealt with through massive sensitisation.
“Our clients put us on pressure because they are saying the products with mercury or hydroquinone work for them. The high demand for these banned products has caused many traders to import them. You need to educate the public first before closing our shops,” one trader said.
Until recently, UNBS has been allowing cosmetic products containing two per cent of mercury or hydroquinone.
Mr Onen agreed with the traders to have a joint sensitisation programme in which they will educate the public and traders about the adverse effects of using the cosmetics containing banned substances.
“We, as government, have the duty to protect the people’s health and at the same time ensure that businesses progress. So we shall educate the people so that we have a middle ground,” Mr Onen said, adding that Ugandans spend approximately Shs100b on cosmetics annually.
Harmful effects of the agents
Agents. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and very powerful chemical used in photo processing, the manufacture of rubber and is an active agent in hair dyes.
Mercury in the form of mercury chloride and ammoniated Mercury is carcinogenic (cancer-producing).
The effects. Hydroquinone or mercury applied to the skin in the longer term actually react with ultra violet rays and re-oxidise, leading to more pigmentation and premature ageing. More products are then applied in an attempt to correct the darker blotchy appearance. These are the beginnings of a vicious cycle. By altering the skins natural structure and inhibiting the production of melanin, the skin’s natural protection, the skin is more susceptible to skin cancer.