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Whitener recall big blemish for Kanebo

Kyodo

After its large-scale recall announcement of flagship skin-whitening products Thursday, Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. has been inundated with phone calls from customers while retailers were busy removing the products from their shelves.

The cosmetics maker said it received 15,000 calls to a special toll-free service as of Thursday night after it was activated earlier in the day. The flood started after the firm announced in the morning it was recalling 54 products, including face lotions and emulsions, after it confirmed that some users’ skin was marked with white patches.

Many of the customers who called the Kanebo hotline wanted to confirm whether the products they were using are subject to the recall. Others wanted to know whether any refunds would be forthcoming.

Kanebo said users suffering any problems will likely improve if they stop using the products, but the firm recommended they consult a dermatologist as symptoms can vary between individuals.

The company said it was planning to bear the treatment costs incurred by customers who have their symptoms diagnosed. Kanebo said it has also set up a special team to investigate the source of the problem and develop measures to prevent it from happening again.

The firm said it received an inquiry from a dermatologist in May after a patient developed the white patches. Kanebo began investigating and found 39 cases of similar symptoms.

The products subject to the recall include the Kanebo Blanshir Superior and White Deep series. All together, 4.36 million units marketed between 2008 and last April are being recalled.

“The only way to regain customer trust in our product quality is by improving it. We just need to continue developing products with high quality,” Kanebo President Masumi Natsusaka said Thursday.

The damage will undoubtedly be severe as the active ingrediant in the whitening products was developed by Kanebo. The company will be forced to revise its merchandising strategy and system of product development.

Annual domestic turnover for the products comes to a tidy ¥5 billion. The recall is expected to cost Kanebo this much as well.

Overseas, especially in Asia, including Taiwan and Thailand, the products have been fetching around ¥1 billion a year.

The recall may result in some customers shunning all whitening products, which would damage the entire industry as many cosmetics companies focus their corporate resources in this field.

On Thursday, as Tokyo department and drug stores were removing the Kanebo whitening products, customers voiced concern.

“I’m afraid to use it as I’ve heard these products cause patches,” said a woman, 35, who works in Setagaya Ward. She said she had just started using the whitening products and had not noticed any problems but was going to return them anyway.

In Kanagawa Prefecture, a specialty store offering Kanebo cosmetics as its main product line received a notice from the company to “halt the sales and prepare for the refund” via phone on Thursday morning.

The 55-year-old woman who manages the store said she has been using recalled products in the Lissage and Twany series regularly for more than a decade.

“They remove blemishes and bring back your white skin,” she said. “There were no problems with these products and I’ve always recommended them to my customers.”

Mitsukoshi Isetan Holdings Ltd. received a call from Kanebo around 11:30 a.m., soon after the Consumer Affairs Agency had informed customers to stop using the products, with a notice to pull the products from all its department stores. The products disappeared from a leading drugstore chain’s outlet in Ginza by noon.

The recall spread to Taiwan Friday. Public health officials there said some 100,000 units of Kanebo products are subject to the recall, likely the largest ever there involving cosmetics.