31 Oct 2023
Venue: CICG | Room A
This spcial event to the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP-5) is co-organized by the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Environment Programme and seeks to question the promotion and normalization of skin lightening — used to inhibit the body’s production of melanin — and confront the perpetuation of harmful cultural norms.
About this Event
Using cosmetics to inhibit the body’s production of melanin, leading the skin to appear lighter, is a centuries-old practice that continues in many parts of the world today. However, consumers are often unaware that these products contain a host of harmful chemicals including mercury, causing skin rashes and discoloration; scarring; nervous, digestive and immune system damage, as well as anxiety and depression.
With the global cosmetics market expanding, growing 14 percent in 2022, and the majority of skin lightening products exceeding the limits set by the Minamata Convention on Mercury, eliminating the use of mercury within skin lightening products (SLPs) is critical to meet the needs of the Convention.
However, without addressing the underlying norms surrounding SLPs – the idealization of whiteness and the concepts association with beauty, wealth and power – products will continue to be targeted towards people of colour, which many suggest holds direct relevance to colonialism, gendered expectations, as well as the media’s preferential treatment of white skin. In short, we cannot address the mercury content alone.
This session, co-organized by the Global Environment Facility and United Nations Environment Programme, questioned the promotion and normalization of skin lightening and confront the perpetuation of harmful cultural norms.
The event was supported by a co-financing partner of the GEF supported project on eliminating skin lightening products, Sema Jonsson, Artist and Director of Pantheon of Women who Inspire – collection of 400+ portrays of inspirational women with a mission is to celebrate a diversity and self-love.
Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention on Mercury
Director, Public Health and the Environment Department, World Health Organisation
Executive Director, Beauty Well
Chief Executive Officer, Melanin Foundation
Alecia Hamilton Campbell
National Project Coordinator, WHO Jamaica
Ange Mibindzou Mouelet
Director, Agency of Medicine, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Gabon
Minamata National Focal Point, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Antigua and Barbuda
Flexin’ In My Complexion
Editor, CNN | Moderator
- Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary, Minamata Convention on Mercury, highlighted the role of the Minamata Convention in drawing attention to the use of skin lighting containing mercury and other harmful substances. She also praised the project on eliminating mercury containing SLPs as an excellent initiative necessary to elevate this matter to global level.
- Maria Neira, Director, Public Health and the Environment Department, World Health Organisation reminded that mercury is neurotoxic and argued that if a product contains mercury, it should not be called a cosmetic. She further urged mobilizing professional associations of dermatologists as a key in supporting the global advocacy campaign on eliminating SLPs.
- Meera Senthilingam, Editor, CNN highlighted that the CNN series White Lies investigated and documented examples of harmful impacts of SLPs. The series produced an Emmy award winning video that put the issue under the global spotlight.
- Amira Adawe, Executive Director, Beauty Well, highlighted that what she learned over years working with communities is that people who use or sell SLPs often are not aware of the danger that mercury poses. She further underlined the power of sharing personal stories as means to encourage and drive necessary social and cultural change.
- Catherine Tetteh, Chief Executive Officer, Melanin Foundation, emphasized a need for educating children and youth on the power of diversity – including equity of all skin tones – as a mitigation strategy to SLP use.
- Kheris Rogers, Flexin’ In My Complexion – underscored that it’s time to challenge the norms that promote the use of skin lightening products and to celebrate our unique beauty and champion inclusivity.
- Ange Mibindzou Mouelet, Director, Agency of Medicine, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Gabon, highlighted the need for a multisectoral approach – stressing close collaboration between Ministries of Environment and Health at the national level – to address the issue.
- Alecia Hamilton Campbell, National Project Coordinator, WHO Jamaica, called for inclusive consultations, including with communities that use SLPs, in drafting regulations to control the products.
- Linroy Christian, Minamata National Focal Point, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Agriculture, Trade and Barbuda Affairs, highlighted the need for consistent and data-backed advocacy at all levels, from communities to national entities, in order to ensure policy engagement and prioritization necessary to push the agenda in the right direction.
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Photos from the Minamata COP-5, including of this event, are available on the official Minamata Convention Flickr account.