Bidorbuy, Amazon, eBay among websites found selling illegal mercury-laced skin lighteners.

27 November 2018 - Skin lightening creams containing mercury – a heavy metal and dangerous neurotoxin – are still widely available to purchase in shops and online, despite being banned by governments. That’s the finding of new research by a global alliance of NGOs working to eliminate mercury pollution.

Testing throughout 2019, revealed 95 of the 158 products purchased in the 12 sampling countries exceeded the legal limit of 1 ppm (part per million), with mercury levels ranging from 40 ppm to over 130,000 ppm. In South Africa, ten non-compliant products were purchased online from BidorBuy.

More than two-thirds (65 of the 95) of those were bought online from such internet marketers as Amazon, eBay, BidorBuy, Lazada, Daraz, Flipkart and Jumia [see table below] [1].

“Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin which must be effectively controlled. Internet retailers like Amazon and eBay must stop these Illegal products from being sold on their sites, as they have recently pledged to do in the EU.” said Bobby Peek, Director at groundWork

In 2018, leading online retailers signed a ‘Product Safety Pledge’ to remove dangerous products. [2]. Many of the same brands were found to contain high mercury levels on several consecutive sampling occasions, in different years, and purchased from both physical shops and via e-commerce platforms. Most were manufactured in Asia, especially in Pakistan (62%), Thailand (19%) and China (13%), according to their packaging.

In South Africa, there are standards restricting mercury in cosmetics under the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, 1972 (Act no. 54 of 1972), Regulations Relating to the Labelling, Advertising and Composition of Cosmetics. Mercury is banned in cosmetics and a limit of 1ppm as per the convention applies. 

Products were tested in accredited laboratories in the EU and US and using a hand-held X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer or analyzer by two regional hubs: CASE in Côte d’Ivoire (for Africa), and Ban Toxics in the Philippines (for Asia). The study did not test products from Latin America. It tested in Africa, Asia, the EU and the USA. Over 110 countries have committed to the Minamata Convention to phase out and limit mercury, including in cosmetics.  A meeting for parties to that convention is being held in Geneva this week [3].

Despite these illegal high mercury products being essentially banned by governments around the globe, our testing result shows the same products continuing to be sold locally and on the internet. In particular,  E-Commerce giants are not above the law and must be held accountable.“These hazardous and illegal products pose a serious mercury exposure risk, especially to repeat users and their children.  We welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the authorities to stop the toxic trade in high mercury skin lightening creams.” said Rico Euripidou, an environmental health campaigner at groundWork.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of more than 110 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from over 55 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project. To address toxic trade in illegal products, the ZMWG has produced a report to assist authorities in effectively implementing the Minamata Convention. Key proposed enforcement measures include: new laws and regulations, alert systems, international and regional collaboration, inspections, penalties, engagement with online retailers and consumer outreach. The report also presents successful national examples and practices from eight developing countries. [4]

Table:  The following table lists the countries in which our NGO partners purchased skin-lightening products, as well as the range of mercury detected in the products purchase from the internet marketers.

NGO Purchasing


Internet Platform Purchased From

Range of mercury (ppm)



Daraz (

9344.33 - 116,600.00


United Kingdom

Amazon UK (

0.00 -11,928.00



eBay Belgium (

0.00 – 20, 813.00

Toxics Link


Amazon, India (

46.95 – 113, 833.33

Toxics Link


Flipkart, India (




Jumia, Kenya (

0,00 - 11,313.18



Jumia, Nigeria (

0.00 - 20,598.76



Nigeria - Jiji,  (,

0.00 - 2584.46



Nigeria - Konga (


Ban Toxics


Lazada, Philippines (

47.98 - 131,566.67


South Africa

South Africa - BidorBuy (

0.00 – 33,082.92


United States

U.S.- eBay, USA (

0.00 – 23,000.00


United States

U.S. - Amazon (

  • – 26,000.00


Further Reading

  1. ZMWG combined executive summary of the two reports  - ”Dangerous, mercury-laden and often illegal skin-lightening products and measures to restrict them under the Minamata Convention”, in EN, FR and ES
  2. ZMWG Report- “Dangerous, mercury-laden and often illegal skin-lightening products: Readily available for (online) purchase”
  3. ZMWG Report – ”Enforcement measures to restrict high mercury cosmetic products under the Minamata Convention”

All reports above available at



[1] High mercury skin lightening products purchased from interent included:

Both Lazada and Daraz are affiliated with the Chinese global e-commerce platform Alibaba.

[2] EU Product Safety Pledge,  and
[3] Minamata Convention on Mercury,
[4] Enforcement measures include:

  1. Laws, regulations and supporting tools (e.g. ingredients labelling, alert systems, detention lists)
  2. Division of responsibilities and mandates.
  3. In-country, regional and international collaboration.
  4. Inspections, sanctions, penalties, voluntary agreements and screening tools.
  5. Engagement with e-commerce platforms.
  6. Consumer outreach and collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs), market surveillance and testing mechanisms.
  7. Harmonization of implementation and enforcement mechanisms.


Contacts and more information:

Tsepang Molefe,, +27 74405 1257/+64 900 9963
Rico Euripidou,, groundWork/ZMWG
Elena Lymberidi-Settimo,, EEB/ZMWG
Anton Lazarus,, EEB communications manager
Michael Bender,, MPP/ZMWG