Amazon pulls skin-lightening products off site amid pushback

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Amazon has pulled more than a dozen skin-lightening products with dangerous levels of mercury off its website after pushback from Minnesota public-health and environmental activists.

The Seattle-based company’s change came after two groups, the BeautyWell Project and the state branch of the Sierra Club, delivered a petition on Wednesday with over 23,000 signatures to Amazon’s fulfilmentcentre in Shakopee.

“For a large retail company selling toxic products to individuals of colour, I think it’s so wrong. And these are illegal products,” said Amira Adawe, founder of the BeautyWell Project, who has been educating women on the hazards of creams intended to lighten their skin for about eight years.

On the same day of delivering the petition, the organizations also took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper demanding that Amazon stop selling toxic skin-lightening creams. The ad had three words in bold print: “Dangerous, racist, and illegal.”

An Amazon spokesperson told Minnesota Public Radio News in an email on Thursday that such products are “no longer available.” The spokesperson also noted the company’s policy that bans suppliers from selling hazardous cosmetics, including those that contain mercury.

Many such creams remain popular among some communities of colour despite containing mercury. Adawe, who has worked on this issue for years locally, is now focused on targeting the retail giants.

She collaborated with the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, in addition to the Mercury Policy Project to examine the skin-lightening creams sold on the Amazon site. Out of the 24 that were tested, 15 showed high levels of mercury.

Such products are not heavily regulated despite having illegal toxins in them, said Mary Blitzer of the local Sierra Club branch.

Adawe said in addition to public health concerns, “it’s a racial thing that keeps encouraging that people should change their skin colour, and we don’t want to see that.”

She added that the ultimate test is whether the products remain off Amazon’s site for good. As of Thursday evening, all but one of the 15 products appeared to be removed from the site.

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