Rwanda Food and Drugs Authority has explained the reason behind its latest ban on more than 130 body lotions, creams and soaps, which contain ingredients prohibited on the Rwandan market.
The regulator says some of the lotions and creams sold illegally in the country contain skin-whitening agents that could lead to adverse effects like skin cancer, blindness, diabetes and high blood pressure.
In a detailed set of answers to The New Times questions, Rwanda FDA said some of the cosmetics listed recently were already available on the Rwandan market while others are banned by neighbouring countries.
The regulator warned that distributors and importers of such cosmetics could face penalties, including losing their licence. The latest list of prohibited cosmetics products was informed by a 2016 ministerial order.
Categories of cosmetics
Body lotions and creams are categorised into three components; natural, lightening, and whitening. While natural body lotions and creams are safe for use and help soften the skin, lightening body lotions and creams are intended to treat skin problems like acne and pigmentation, the regulator said.
“However, the use of whitening body lotions and creams is prohibited in Rwanda due to the presence of harmful ingredients such as hydroquinone, mercury, corticosteroids, and retinoids,” it said.
Despite the ban, skin-whitening creams and lotions, known in Kinyarwanda as ‘Mukorogo,’ are sometimes sold illegally. These body creams and lotions are made by mixing different types of chemicals, or taking natural skin-friendly creams and lotions and adding some of the above-mentioned ingredients, mostly designed as drugs for use in skin care applications.
Effects of using cosmetics containing hydroquinone, mercury
Rwanda FDA says using cosmetic products containing chemicals like hydroquinone and mercury causes very serious effects:
Skin whitening creams and lotions often contain ingredients such as hydroquinone, mercury etc. which act on the skin cells (melanocytes), which produce the protective skin-darkening pigment melanin.
When a person uses these products for a long time, it damages the melanocytes cells making them unable to produce melanin, which helps to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun.
“If a person uses whitening products for a long time, this may cause side effects such as skin cancer and blindness,” Rwanda FDA noted.
If a person stops using whitening creams and lotions after long-time exposure, the skin may not fully return to its original colour. The person displays multi-coloured skin on the face and other parts of the skin.
Diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney diseases
Chronic exposure to whitening body lotions and creams reduces the immunity of the skin, allowing toxic substances to slowly enter the body and get into the bloodstream. When it reaches the bloodstream, it can cause high blood pressure and disorders in glucose metabolism leading to diabetes.
Difficult waste removal, thinner skin
Whitening body lotions and creams make the skin dry and unable to remove waste from the body through the pores that facilitate sweating. This leads to an unhealthy build-up of waste in the body.
Long-term use of the cosmetics containing the banned elements can damage the liver and kidneys, the human body’s waste removal organs. It may also weaken bones.
Skin-lightening body lotions and creams reduce the thickness of the skin and expose the muscles, which complicates healing if a person has a skin condition. A thinner skin exposes blood vessels which leads to acne and pimples on the face and other areas of the skin that are often difficult to treat.
Penalties for distributors of banned cosmetics
Rwanda FDA collaborates with law enforcement institutions to enforce the ban and removal of prohibited cosmetics from the Rwandan market.
Distributors of the prohibited body lotions, creams and soaps are sanctioned under the law governing Rwanda FDA.
The sanctions may include recalling the batch that is found with the products, revocation of the license to operate issued by Rwanda FDA, requiring the importer or distributor to dispose of the products at his or her expense and administrative fines.
“These penalties are in place to ensure compliance with the regulations and to protect the health and safety of consumers,” the regulator said.