The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) yesterday issued a warning against a whitening cream that contains over 3,000 times the allowed amount of mercury. It alerted the public not to buy or use Royal Expert Whitening Cream and instructed sellers to remove all listings.
OEW Group, which owns the brand, told The Straits Times that dealers are not allowed to distribute it in Singapore.
But at least two local Facebook pages, each with more than 1,000 likes, advertise products by Royal Expert. Calls to the administrators' numbers went unanswered.
The cream, which touts skin whitening and anti-wrinkle effects, was also previously available on e-commerce platforms Lazada and Qoo10. It remains available on online marketplace Carousell. On various platforms, the cream's price ranged between $50 and $79.
In a statement on its Facebook page, OEW Group said dealers are allowed to distribute their products only in Malaysia and cannot use third-party e-commerce platforms.
The group said: "This is not a new issue as there (have) been many counterfeit and imitation Royal Expert products in the market, and we have taken all the necessary steps to curtail this issue."
It added that it is working with HSA to resolve these problems and protect its customers' interests.
An HSA spokesman told ST that in October last year, one company notified HSA of its intention to sell Royal Expert products here. Notification does not amount to approval, and testing is not required before the product goes to market.
"Under current regulations, companies or individuals who manufacture, import and sell cosmetic products are directly responsible for the safety of their products."
Last month, HSA was alerted by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), which found a mercury content of 3,604 micrograms per gram in the cream during a test of 20 cosmetic products. Mercury is an environmental contaminant and only trace levels of less than 1mcg/g is allowed, Case said.
Mercury is toxic and regular application of creams containing it could lead to rashes, skin discolouration and blotching. Chronic exposure to high levels of mercury in cosmetic products could also affect the kidneys and nervous system.
HSA advised those who have bought the product to stop using it immediately and throw it away.
Case executive director Loy York Jiun said that from January 2014 to April this year, the association received 33 complaints from consumers about skin irritation as a result of using beauty products sold by businesses here.
Anyone convicted of supplying illegal health products may be jailed for up to three years and/or fined up to $100,000. HSA advised consumers to exercise discretion when buying health products online.