South Korea's cosmetics giant Amorepacific Group apologized on March 20 for its products found to contain a heavy metal substance above the admissible level and said it is in the process of retrieving the problematic products.
On March 19, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) said 13 cosmetic items produced by local original design manufacturer (ODM) Hwasung Cosmetic and supplied to eight cosmetics companies were found with antimony above the permissible level and ordered the involved companies to suspend selling the products and pull those already in the market from shelves. Among them, six were from Amorepacific's brands – four concealers from Aritaum and a concealer and an eyebrow pencil from Etude House.
Amorepacific will offer exchanges and refunds to customers who have the problematic products after posting the procedures via the websites of Aritaum and Etude House.
The local regulator bans the usage of more than 10㎍/g of antimony in finished products. However, about 10.1ppm to 14.3ppm of antimony were found in the problematic products, according to the MFDS.
Antimony is a chemical element that often used in producing crystal diodes and infrared detectors as well as a heavy metal content that can cause contact dermatitis often accompanied by itching, blisters and erythema in contact with skin. A low level of antimony may cause headache, dizziness and depression but a high level of antimony can cause lung and eye irritation and gastrointestinal disorder.
Therefore, there is a growing unease among customers who have used Amorepacific’s problematic products. The harmfulness of Antimony has become one of the most searched subjects on the Internet and an increasing number of people are inquiring its side effects and symptoms.
In particular, Amorepacific is being criticized for having a similar safety issue again in less than two years. In 2016, the MFDS ordered a recall of 11 toothpaste products manufactured and sold by AmorePacific, including Median brand, saying the products contained methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and chloromethylisothiazolinone (CMIT), which are toxic chemicals used in humidifier disinfectants produced by Oxy. Since then, Amorepacific, which offered a considerable amount of refunds, has failed to recover its earlier share in the toothpaste market.
Until now, Amorepacific has been the most popular cosmetics brand in China thanks to Hallyu Korean culture wave). The group’s yearly operating profit surpassed 1 trillion won (US$933.36 million) in 2016 for the first time, joining the the 1-trillion-won operating profit club. However, it saw its sales dramatically drop last year as Chinese consumers boycotted South Korean products in protest of the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system on the Korean Peninsula. The domestic market also had a direct hit after the Chinese government imposed a ban on group tours into South Korea.
There are more unfavorable factors. The Fair Trade Commission (FTC) has been investigating Amorepacific Group and its six other subsidiaries from February 21 on suspicion that the group unfairly helped its affiliates.
Amorepacific is haunted with embarrassment as its cosmetics products found to contain toxic chemicals amid the investigation by the watchdog.
During a phone interview with BusinessKorea, an official from Amorepacific Group said, “As a manufacturer, we should have paid full attention to quality control. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers. Especially, we will also issue a recall for relevant products in other countries, though they are not a considerable amount.”