Amazon Finally Removes Toxic Skin-Whitening Creams

Amazon Finally Removes Toxic Skin-Whitening Creams from Its Shelves Under Pressure from Health and Environmental Groups

BERKELEY, CA—NOV. 22, 2019—Amazon has taken an important step today by removing 14 skin-whitening products that contain toxic levels of mercury from its retail platform, thanks to a sustained pressure campaign from Minnesota public-health and environmental groups BeautyWell Project and Sierra Club.

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While Amazon has pulled these products under intense community pressure, its egregious actions in putting toxic and dangerous projects on its internet shelves in the first place continues to put consumers at risk. Hiding behind its online persona, Amazon has refused to acknowledge that, as a retailer — a seller of products — it must meet the same laws, codes, and standards as any brick and mortar store. Simply pulling products that have dangerous levels of toxic ingredients, only after a wide range of consumer protests, is wholly insufficient as a business practice. Communities of color should not have to spend years fighting against one of the world’s largest companies to pull dangerous products off its shelves.

Amazon had to be pressured over the skin-whitening creams, claim activists

“Amazon has evaded consumer protection laws for far too long. As one of the world’s largest retailers, it must begin following basic health and safety laws or risk losing its social license to operate,” said Danielle Fugere, president of As You Sow. “Reputation matters. Consumers will not continue to buy from a company that sells unsafe products.

In April, As You Sow filed a lawsuit against Amazon.com under California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The lawsuit alleges that Amazon has knowingly exposed consumers to harmful products by allowing mercury-laden, skin-whitening creams to be sold through its website without ensuring consumers receive legally required warnings.

Testing of skin-whitening creams purchased through Amazon.com found dangerously high levels of mercury — thousands of times the legal limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — and up to 38,000 times in one skin-care product. Mercury is a central nervous system, reproductive, and renal toxin that has been listed by the state of California as a reproductive toxicant under the Toxic Enforcement Act. Multiple state departments of public health also have warned of the dangers of skin-whitening creams, which are predominantly marketed to women of color.

Amazon has been repeatedly informed of the health danger from these skin-whitening creams. Other public enforcers brought suit against Amazon for the sale of skin-lightening products containing mercury back in 2015. That case is now on appeal. In November 2018, more than 50 public interest groups issued an open letter to Amazon.com, asking it to cease sales of many of the skin-care products at issue in the lawsuit.

“That Amazon has continued to allow these toxic products to be sold on their website, especially when they’ve known about this problem for years, is outrageous,” said Chelsea Linsley, staff attorney at As You Sow who has been involved in legal action against Amazon since 2017. “It’s time for Amazon to start being accountable to the customers it serves.”

For more information on As You Sow’s work on toxic enforcement, click here.