Procter & Gamble has ceased all sales of the SK-II skin care line in China following allegations made by a regional watchdog that it contained potentially dangerous chemicals.
The company said in an official statement that all sales of the product line in China would cease until it could be determined how traces of chromium and neodymium - heavy metals that are known to be toxic and that are banned from cosmetics formulations sold in the country - came to be there.
The SK-II line, which features premium sunscreens, skin whitening and general skin care products, has been available for twenty years and is sold in 14 countries worldwide, including the US, China, Singapore, South Korea and Australia.
"SK-II is taking this action until its compliance with the regulations pertaining to trace levels of chromium and neodymium in cosmetics products sold in China is fully clarified," an official statement said from P&G China.
P&G began to offer refunds for the product line in China this week, but the grounds for those refunds, which insisted on a receipt and the fact that at least one third of the product remained unused, infuriated many consumers, in turn leading to demonstrations in Shanghai.
The situation is increasingly looking like a public relations disaster for the company, as questions over the product line remain in the air and comprehensive testing spreads to other markets in Asia. Currently testing is being carried out in Japan, Singapore and South Korea, involving both the company and national authorities.
The action was sparked off after watchdog authorities in Hong Kong and Guandong alerted consumers to the fact its tests had shown that a number of SK-II skin care products, including the skin whitening creams, had tested positive for the chromium and neodymium.
The products were manufactured at P&G's production facility in Japan, which produces the SK-II line under the company's Max Factor name.
Experts say that both the chemicals could cause skin outbreaks and allergic reactions. Chromium is found to cause skin diseases such as allergic dermatitis and eczema when applied topically, while Neodymium can cause eye irritation and mucosa.
A representative from P&G's Singapore operations said that traces of chromium and many other heavy metals are to be found in a range of compounds and are often unavoidable.
However, the company said that these ingredients were not used in any of its current product lines and that investigations were currently under way to discover how traces of the ingredient may have contaminated the production process at the Japanese facility.
According to some press reports from the region, a number of women have already reported adverse reactions to the product line, mainly after using the skin whitening line.
The product, which retails at more than $100 for a 200ml bottle, is a popular choice with many women in Asia who deem a fair complexion to be the very height of beauty. Many women, and increasingly men, spend significant amounts of money in the region every year in the hope of achieving this desired effect through the application of a vast range of products that now cram retail shelves.