Amazon Pulls Skin-Lightening Products Off Site Amid Pushback

Associated Press
November 22, 2019 - 7:13 pm

In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 photo, from left, Mary Blitzer, of the Sierra Club, gives a petition of over 23,000 signatures to Amira Adawe of the Beautywell Project as they deliver it to the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Shakopee, Minn. The two non-profit groups launched a campaign for Amazon and E-bay to stop selling toxic skin-lightening creams that contain mercury. (Christine T. Nguyen /Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

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

The 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 fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

“For a large retail company selling toxic products to individuals of color, 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.

Amazon spokeswoman Cecilia Fan said sellers who use their site must follow the proper guidelines.

“And those who don’t will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available,” she said in an emailed statement Friday.

Fan also pointed out the company’s policy that bans suppliers from selling hazardous products, including ones containing mercury.

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

Many such creams remain popular among some communities of color 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 color, 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.