UAE bans skin whitening creams containing cancer-linked ingredient

Faiza beauty cream and Unitone 4 White are no longer available due to possible complications from the use of hydroquinone

Two over-the-counter whitening creams containing ingredients that could cause cancer were withdrawn from sale on Sunday in the UAE.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention banned the sale of the creams for failing to list an ingredient with links to cancer and possible severe side-effects.

The withdrawn facial creams, Faiza beauty cream and Unitone 4 White, claim to whiten the skin and remove brown spots. Officials said they both contain hydroquinone, a substance thought to be a possible carcinogen, and yet it was not mentioned on either the packaging or the accompanying leaflet. Only when the products were analysed did inspectors discover the hydroquinone.

As per a 2015 circular by the Health Authority in Abu Dhabi, products containing hydroquinone can only be sold with a prescription.

“Hydroquinone, without the supervision of a doctor, could lead to severe consequences and disfigurement. Moreover, there are several studies showing that hydroquinone may act as a carcinogen in rodents,” said Dr Farhan Rasool, a specialist dermatologist at Universal Hospital.

“It is important for buyers [of skin whitening cream] to check if hydroquinone is listed as an ingredient. If it is, then take it under a doctor’s supervision so that if any potential side effects develop then we can recognise it and manage it. We understand that having fair and clear skin is very important to many women, but their health is more important,” he said.

Skin whitening products, popular around the world and especially in Asia, are used to reduce the amount of pigmentation in the skin to treat irregularities such as discoloration, age spots or acne scars. They are sometimes also used to make the skin appear a lighter shade. Misuse, however, can lead to skin conditions such as exogenous ochronosis, a blue-black pigmentation disorder resulting from the long-term application of creams containing hydroquinone.

Faiza was also found to contain mercury in higher amounts than the one part per million of metal allowed in cosmetics by the Federal Drug and Food Administration. Exposure to the chemical element can cause liver problems, muscle spasms, stomach aches, nausea and neurological problems. The ministry said Fazia has been completely banned and it is now illegal to sell this product.

Dr Amin Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said the ministry monitors all pharmaceutical products as well as supplements and stimulants that claim to be medicinal. They urge the public to use caution when taking supplements because unlicensed and unregistered products could put lives at risk.

The beauty creams, as well as food supplements and a brand of faulty contact lenses, have been withdrawn from the UAE market. Dr Al Amiri warned of buying these products online and purchasing unregistered drugs or supplements.