2,250 users of Kanebo skin-whitening products report serious symptoms


Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. said 2,250 users of its group’s skin-whitening cosmetics have reported developing serious symptoms such as white blotches since it recalled 54 products on July 4.

Serious effects of the products from Kanebo and subsidiaries Lissage Ltd. and e’quipe Ltd. include “depigmentation in an area of at least 5 cm” and “depigmentation in three or more areas of the body,” as well as “clearly visible depigmentation in parts of the face,” the firm said Tuesday.

Including the 2,250 people seriously affected, 6,808 women reported having developed “white blotches on the skin,” Kanebo said.

The company also said it was aware of only 39 cases at the time of the recall announcement.

In total, Kanebo has received more than 100,000 inquiries in connection with the recall.

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

The products in question, including Kanebo Blanchir Superior, use a whitening chemical substance called 4-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-2-butanone, which Kanebo named “Rhododenol.”

Kanebo said earlier it has been marketing cosmetics that use the ingredient as an active substance since 2008, with some 250,000 people using them.

The recalled products posted sales of some ¥5 billion at home and around ¥1 billion in overseas markets.

The company said the Japanese Dermatological Association will post on its website a list of medical and other facilities that can treat the symptoms.

  • Steven Morris

    Here are two things that I’ve heard about this:

    1. A government agency is responsible for determining whether a skin care product like this is safe. This product passed their tests.

    2. Refunds and additional money is apparently being returned to customers who claim to have been affected.

    Here’s what I think–

    If the government determined the product (a certain liquid contained in each of the recalled products) safe, then I think they should be taking the blame.

    Similarly, if there is indeed money being returned and awarded to customers who’ve claimed to have been affected, then I hope the workers at Kanebo do not have to take a hit on their salaries or bonuses as a result. I agree with the sentiment from Kanebo, but I believe the government agency responsible for testing the product should be doing something. I would love to hear more news on their reaction.


    The whole skin-whitening thing in Japan is strange on many levels. As a non-Japanese, I have always assumed that skin-whitening products are either snake-oil or dangerous. This case, unfortunately, proved them to be dangerous. However, in Japan these kinds of products are so mainstream that I imagine most make-up companies here have such products on their list of big sellers. Of course my wife claims that a lot of people use these products to prevent freckles, liver spots, and other skin “imperfections”.

    At any rate, I sincerely hope the affected customers somehow recover. I also hope that Japanese women will save their money and find happiness in something other than unnaturally white skin.

    • JTCommentor

      Is the skin whitening thing more strange than the skin darkening thing white people do – aka sunbathing? While cancer awareness has somewhat shrunk this, and many would like to believe that the non-tanned is beautiful message has been well received, so many people in so many countries still tan on beaches, in sun beds or apply chemical false tan, spray tan etc etc.

      Also, while the government is responsible for approving pharmaceuticals (and I am not sure if this product goes through the same process), they still undoubtedly also rely on information, studies, expert opinions and such provided by the product owner. In a perfect world, the government agencies would have the resources to employ enough people, conduct enough studies to exhaust every single avenue of what could go wrong with every substance approved, in every circumstance. But reality is that such certainty in science cannot be obtained, and to attempt to do so would be beyond a governments budget. High standards are kept, but within the realms of reality. Also, there is nothing to suggest that there is anything wrong with the active ingreditent in this product – which is what the government test. It is most likely some manufacturing defect, for which the manufacturer and/or product owner are undoubtetly always legally responsible for. So I do not see any logical reason for blaming the government and expecting them to waste public money to make right errors of a non-government corporation.

  • 思德

    What’s really a shame is that 2,250 people (and probably more) want to look white instead of be happy in the skin color they were born with.

    • JTCommentor

      Is it more of a shame than the many, many multiples of 2,250 people around the world who wish to look darker than the skin color they were born with, and spend hours baking in the sun – even though they know it causes cancer?

    • leaf

      I think you’re taking the term “whitening” a little too seriously. It’s true that products that are supposed to “whiten” are extremely mainstream in Japan but it usually only means that they contain vitamin c, etc. and are supposed to get rid of any unwanted tans at a slightly faster rate. People buy them, to restore their skin to their natural whiteness (as in, the skin color that they were born with which you seem to endorse)
      In other words, their effects are very subtle–nothing like “bleaching” as the term “whitening” suggests.

      • 思德

        One man’s opinion. I didn’t develop that opinion out of thin air, though. Perhaps you’ve never heard the term, “Whiter is brighter”? I have. I first heard this term in Taiwan, when a local girl explained to me why Taiwanese avoid the sun and use products like that.

        Granted, while Taiwanese people and Japanese are not the same, and their cultures are certainly different, there is some cultural exchange between Japan and Taiwan, and I would not be surprised if the undertones (no pun intended) were similar. I would certainly not argue that Japan is LESS concerned about race, color, and the imagined implications of one’s color than than Taiwan. I do not think they are trying to keep their skin color lighter for the same reason westerners sunbathe. You might be able to argue that some westerners associate dark skin color with low intelligence, but if that’s the case, it doesn’t explain why they sunbathe. You’re definitely not going to find people who think white skin color is associated with stupidity. It’s associated with privilege. Not the same thing.

        The obsession with avoiding the sun I can understand because it weathers your face. Using a whitening cream?

      • leaf

        Again, I think you are reading into this too much. Has it ever occurred to you that people sunbathe and use whitening products because they look better with or without a tan, period? I hardly think that there are any “privilege” issues with regard to the Japanese people using these products.
        Heck, I’m a Japanese woman and I sometimes buy whitening products in the summer time but the thought “I want whiter skin because then, people would look at me and think that I am socially privileged” has never ever crossed my mind.
        I can’t speak for all but I’ve got to say that for most of the people buying whitening products It’s simply that they are doing what is in style now and/or what they think would make them more attractive.

  • Osaka48

    “Kanebo said earlier it has been marketing cosmetics that use the ingredient as an active substance since 2008, with some 250,000 people using them.”

    And just how many complaints did Kanebo receive…and then ignore from 2008 to their final recall? Many thousands before they took appropriate action.

    This represents corporate irresponsibility…heads should be cut.

    In the U.S., the stories of Mitsubishi (auto) “hiding” defects and delaying recalls is a shameful one…not to mention Toyota’s long delayed defect recall for uncontrolled acceleration of their vehicles…now costing them $billions of dollars due to their “hesitancy” to act properly.

  • Radula

    Meanwhile in the western world some white people are trying really hard to get a tanned look, which they consider to look attractive and healthy in these times. Extensive tanning however can lead to increased risk of skin cancer (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs287/en/ http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/27/tanning.booth.melanoma/index.html). Several Asian and Indian people I know have in fact been told they should consider themselves lucky because they don’t need to tan extensively to get that, in that particular part of the world, sought after tanned look.

    It seems individuals all over the globe are using artificial means to alter their natural looks to stand out of the crowd – however we can only vary our appearances to a certain limit without risking our health. But if you really want to stand out of the crowd by natural means you might consider getting a job on another continent (which is not always that easy). But on the other hand, then you might also have to battle against racism or xenophobia if you are unlucky.