They may be cheap, but experts warn that fake cosmetics can seriously damage your health
Nguyen Thu Ha often suggests a shopping expedition to Ha Noi’s Hom Market for cosmetics because of the variety and low prices of the products available.
But the state-owned enterprise worker, whose monthly salary totals 3 million dong (US$190), doesn’t know the origin of the cosmetics that she and her friends buy so enthusiastically.
Nor does she realise that they can harm her skin.
"I think most are illegally imported from China despite the labels that are written in Japanese, Korean, English and German," she says. "But many have no label at all.
The young woman and her friends don’t go to shops that carry stocks of guaranteed brand names because the cost is too high for most city-dwelling Vietnamese women.
"I’m not in the habit of buying cosmetics at luxury shops," says Ha Noi Economics University student Tran Van Anh. "Spending money on famous brand-name cosmetics is too costly for a student like me."
But Van Anh often buys Chinese-made cosmetics in Hang Dao Street.
Cosmetics in Viet Nam usually have three sources: Made-in-China imitations of international brand names; cosmetics produced in a ‘third country’ and genuine products.
Chinese imitations are the most favoured because of their cost.
Hom Market vendor Nguyen Thi Chanh concedes that she buys her supplies wholesale from Lang Son border-region traders with a minimum of paper work.
Neither she nor her customers anticipate the worst
But a woman was admitted to HCM City’s Dermatology and Venereology Hospital in a critical condition recently after she made up her face with cream bought at the Ky Hoa market for 40,000 dong ($2.52).
The face of the 27-year-old was seriously swollen and her skin ulcerated
The hospital receives five to seven such cosmetics victims each week.
"Most of the patients have used black market cosmetics: No origin, bad quality and home-made cream," says Dr Ly Huu Du
Ha Noi Dermatology and Venereology Hospital deputy director Nguyen Thi Thao says the number of patients allergic to cosmetics treated at her institution has increased since 2003-2004.
"Cosmetic allergy occurs all year round," she says. "Most incidents involve the use of cream products of no known origin or products processed at home by individuals who are not trained."
Cosmetic allergy springs from the susceptibility of the user and poor-quality products.
National Dermatology and Venereology Institute deputy director Tran Hau Khang warns: "If your skin itches, or breaks into a rash when applying any type of cosmetic, stop using it immediately. The patient must then see a specialist.
"Most cosmetics can cause an allergy and this can have serious consequences if it isn’t discovered early and treated properly.
Recently, Dong Thap Provincial police arrested a woman allegedly selling home-made whitening cream in the Chau Thanh District’s Nha Man Market
They believe the home-made cream caused the death of Nguyen Ngoc Bich.
The 15-year-old teenager is reported to have bought two boxes of Quynh Huong cream at the market and applied it to her entire body
After an hour, she had a temperature of 40 degrees and vomited.
Admitted to the local Sa Dec General Hospital in critical condition, she died six hours later.
The hospital’s emergency unit head, Dr. Vu Kim Long, said blood tests showed her white corpuscle count was six times higher than average
Dermatologists say home-made whitening cream is a mixture of salicylic acid and benzoic acids and too much will cause the skin to shed and cause dehydration and the body to over heat.
As a reaction to these cases, the Viet Nam Drug Administration has implemented regulations to ensure the quality standards of both imported and domestic cosmetics last week
These make the company or individual who sells cosmetics responsible for the safety of the users. Users whose health is harmed are entitled to sue for compensation.