Thousands hit Kanebo over skin discoloring

Cosmetics giant promises long-term aid

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. has announced that more than 2,000 people have complained about serious skin discoloration after using its products, with the firm saying Wednesday that it has begun meeting with people suffering from such symptoms, promising them long-term support.

“We set up a task force headed by the president and decided to meet those who reported (the symptoms) to us in person,” said Hiroshi Hasegawa, a spokesman for the cosmetics giant, which announced the recall of 54 of tis skin-whitening products on July 4.

The company has visited 3,181 out of 6,808 customers who had contacted the firm about the symptoms as of last Friday.

The company announced Tuesday that the 6,808 people — including 2,250 seriously affected — have reported developing symptoms such as white blotches after using the products.

The serious cases included conditions of “depigmentation in three or more areas of the body,” “depigmentation in an area of at least 5 cm” and “clearly visible depigmentation in parts of the face,” Kanebo said.

Hasegawa said Wednesday that the firm plans to offer long-term support, including skin condition checkups and advice on makeup by its beauty consultants nationwide.

However, the Tokyo-based firm has yet to determine the cause, which is being investigated in cooperation with the Japanese Dermatological Association.

An official at the association said it set up a special committee on July 17 to study the cause and come up with adequate treatments. It also added a list of medical and other facilities to its website featuring 81 institutions from Hokkaido to Kagoshima prefectures that can consult people with potential symptoms.

The skin-whitening products in question use a chemical substance called 4-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-2-butanone, which Kanebo developed and named Rhododenol. The substance was approved by the health ministry in 2008.

Kanebo and its subsidiaries, Lissage Ltd. and e’quipe Ltd., have marketed a total of 4.36 million units that have used the substance since 2008, according to figures released by the Consumer Affairs Agency.

Shingo Kurobane, an official with the health ministry’s safety division, said it hasn’t received reports of similar symptoms from other cosmetics makers as the substance, Rhododenol, is unique to Kanebo’s products.

Kurobane said the ministry must first confirm the cause before considering any preventive measures.

“We have to first figure out the relationship between the symptoms and the cause, whether Kanebo’s products triggered the depigmentation, or there were other factors,” Kurobane said.

Kanebo’s Hasegawa added that the firm had estimated the cost of the recall to be around ¥5 billion.

“We apologize to all who have developed the symptoms,” President Masumi Natsusaka told a news conference Tuesday. “We are also surprised that the number (of affected people) is so large.”