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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Warning after skin creams seized
Seized products
Magistrates have ordered the destruction of 6,000 products
Trading standards are warning customers not to buy skin creams containing toxic chemicals after the biggest-ever seizure of unsafe cosmetics at Gatwick.

High levels of cancer-causing chemical hydroquinone were found in illegal skin lightening creams hidden in freight from West Africa marked "food stuff".

Horsham magistrates granted West Sussex Trading Standards an order for 4,600 cosmetic products to be destroyed.

The council said residents might not realise the products can cause damage.

Destruction orders

The importer was ordered to pay 1,465 in costs for the cosmetics, which were bound for markets in London, to be disposed of as special waste.

Since January, 6,000 potentially dangerous products have been given forfeiture and destruction orders by the court.

Trading standards said the bleaching agent hydroquinone, used in the photographic industry, can cause dermatitis if left in contact with the skin or damage to the cornea if in contact with the eyes.

It can prove fatal if only two grammes is swallowed.

But an investigation by BBC's South East Today found that similar illegal products could still be bought in shops in the region.

Removed from shelves

A reporter bought two items containing hydroquinone from a shop in Chatham, Kent.

Later, the shop owner was unavailable but the shop assistant said she did not know the products were illegal and that they would be removed from the shelves.

Skin lightening creams are used by some black and Asian women, but in the UK it has been illegal since 2001 to sell products containing hydroquinone.

Maureen Chiana
Maureen Chiana said people were not aware of product ingredients

Microbiologist and beautician Maureen Chiana said: "A lot of people buy products and don't read the label.

"Some shop owners don't even know what hydroquinone is so the first thing is actually getting people to know how dangerous it is."

West Sussex County Council cabinet member Lionel Barnard said: "This type of product can cause irreparable damage to health or even result in death.

"I am very pleased that our ongoing operation has been cracking down on such shipments from West Africa."

Head of Trading Standards, Patrick Bligh-Cheesman, said anyone using a skin lightening product should check it does not contain hydroquinone.

"If it is listed in the ingredients they should stop using it and contact Trading Standards immediately," he said.


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