Consumers are being warned to steer clear of skin lightening creams that can “act like paint stripper”.
The Local Government Association warns the products should be “avoided at all costs” after recent seizures by trading standards officers.
Many contained the bleaching agent hydroquinone – the creams can also contain mercury.
The British Skin Foundation said people should speak to a doctor if they had any concerns about their skin.
The LGA says the toxic products are being sold by rogue retailers, as well as online and at car boot sales and market stalls.
And they do not always spell out the correct levels of ingredients, putting consumers at risk.
Hydroquinone, described by the LGA as “the biological equivalent of paint stripper”, can remove the top layer of skin, increasing the risk of skin cancer, and cause fatal liver and kidney damage. Mercury can cause similar life-threatening health problems.
Unless they are issued on prescription by a doctor, creams containing hydroquinone, steroids or mercury are banned in the UK – because of their potentially serious side-effects.
‘Avoid at all costs’
The LGA highlighted several recent seizures including –
- The seizure of 360 products from a store in Dagenham, some of which contained hydroquinone. Ingredients were listed incorrectly and failed to meet EU regulations. The store’s owners were fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £8,010 to the council
- Southwark Council seized about 2,900 skin-whitening products, most of which had been imported directly from Nigeria, in a single raid in 2018. It also saw what is believed to be the UK’s first jail sentence for the sale of dangerous skin lightening products
- A quarter of a tonne of illegal skin lightening products were seized at Gatwick Airport after arriving from Cameroon. Samples were found to contain hydroquinone