The hidden hazard of unapproved cosmetic products

The cosmetic industry is one of the many booming sectors. With the ever increasing demand to look elegant and beautiful, consumers are often attracted to try any creams that are said to make their skin fairer, smoother or toned up. Unfortunately, the market is facing an influx of illegal cosmetic products that promise consumers flawless beauty.

Recent years, the Malaysia Health Ministry’s National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Department (NPRA) has banned several products containing scheduled poisons (regulated medications). Cosmetic products are not supposed to contain poison. Commonly abused poisons in creams include; hydroquinone, tretinoin, mercury and heavy metals.

Hydroquinone, a derivative of an industrial solvent called benzene, is often added in the cosmetics to stop pigmentation. However, large doses and long term usage may predispose the user to skin discomfort, skin discolouration, hypersensitivity to sunlight as well as skin cancer.

Tretinonin, is a medication used to treat acne at an appropriate dose. However, certain companies may add tretinonin in cosmetic products so their users may experience better control in acne. When unsupervised, it may induce skin irritation, redness, peeling and hypersensitivity to sunlight.

As we all know, mercury is one of the most toxic chemicals which may induce permanent damage to organs and retard children’s growth. Mercury may be added in some cosmetic formulations due to its potential skin thinning and lightening effect. Besides mercury, there are reports of cadmium (to reduce pigmentation), chromium (whitening agent), lead (shinning effect) and even arsenic (to improve complexion) found in certain illegal cosmetic products.

Consumers are advised to stop any cosmetic products that create any discomfort to their skin and immediately consult healthcare professionals for advice. For consumers in Malaysia, please feel free to contact NPRA at 03-7883 5400 or [email protected] or visit NPRA website at should any queries arise such as the authenticity or status of registration with regards to cosmetic products. As a rule of thumb, only purchase cosmetic products that are registered with local authorities.


  1. Al-Saleh, I., Khogali, F., Al-Amodi, M., El-Doush, I., Shinwari, N., & Al-Baradei, R. (2003). Histopathological effects of mercury in skin-lightening cream. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol, 22(4), 287-299.
  2. NST – Health Ministry bans seven cosmetics products containing poison (May 26, 2017)
  3. NST – Exclusive: Toxic cosmetics killing Malaysians (Dec 23, 2016)
Chun Wai Mai
Chun Wai Mai

BPharm (Hons), PhD, RPh

A pharmacist who is passionate in drug discovery, data analytics and pharmaceutical care.

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