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Kanebo victims facing medical concerns
Publication Date : 01-10-2013
Nearly three months after Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. began recalling skin-whitening products that caused skin blemishes, victims have begun facing a new wave of concerns over medical treatment and compensation.
With as many as 10,000 product users experiencing white blotches on their skin, immediate actions need to be taken to create measures to compensate victims and to prevent the future occurrence of similar incidents.
Voices of distrust
On Saturday, a telephone counseling hotline for victims received 92 calls in Osaka and 46 in Sendai, the two cities where lawyers offered the service.
In one case, a caller said she is afraid to meet people as she is ashamed of the blotches.
Another caller said the skin problem has affected her work, and yet another complained about Kanebo’s failure to start compensation talks.
Callers not only reported their skin problems but also expressed their anger toward Kanebo, lawyers said.
Though a public compensation system has been established for health problems caused by medical products, it does not apply to quasi-drugs like the whitening products in question. Manufacturers are usually expected to take responsibility for problems involving such products.
Kanebo has met with each of the victims and said the company will pay for medical expenses and the cost of transportation to the hospital.
But the company has not clarified on what basis it will pay the victims compensation. It has only said it will compensate victims when they recover from symptoms.
Therefore, it is not clear what will happen if the symptoms persist or how the problem’s effects on the victims’ lives and work will be reflected in the compensation.
Lawyer Soichiro Suga, who led the project to establish the hotline, said Kanebo should unveil its compensation policy as soon as possible.
“The more time Kanebo takes to do so, the more dissatisfied the victims will become,” he said.
Suga, who has decided to set up a legal team for the Osaka victims, plans to hold an explanatory meeting for them at the end of this month.
Effects of continued use
The white blotches have not disappeared immediately even after victims stopped using the products.
Since no effective treatment exists yet, many victims have apparently adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
A 45-year-old female part-time worker in the Kinki region developed blotches on her cheeks, hand, neck and other body parts, including one more than five centimeters long.
She stopped using the products after Kanebo said on July 4 it was voluntarily recalling the whitening products, but the tone of her skin around the blotches became darker, making the white areas stand out even more.
She said she is worried that they may still be visible even if she covers them with long-sleeve clothing and a stole.
The woman said she has used up to four types of Kanebo whitening products such as skin lotion and moisturizer at a time in the past three years or so.
When she noticed a white blotch on her skin in June last year she suspected it was related to her use of cosmetics, but her dermatologist was skeptical.
The doctor recommended she use whitening products to make it less noticeable after she developed a white blotch on her face. She then doubled her use of the products.
The woman, who has not started treatment for the blotches, was furious, saying, “Kanebo said it won’t take responsibility for the matter until all the victims recover, but will we ever really recover?”
A 68-year-old housewife in Yokohama, who liked Kanebo products and used them for a long time, developed three white blotches three centimetres long on her neck.
At the recommendation of a Kanebo salesclerk, she used a large quantity of the whitening products, applying skin lotion and moisturiser in the morning and adding a cream in the evening.
Neither the woman nor her doctor thought the problem was caused by the Kanebo products.
With her blotches not having faded, the woman said she will never use whitening products again.
The Japanese Dermatological Association, which is working to find a way to treat the white blotches and identify the exact cause of the problems, said many victims used a whitening product with at least one other skin care product at the same time.
It also said it is difficult even for dermatologists to distinguish general skin discoloration and blemishes caused by whitening products, and many victims are believed to have continued using the products after they developed the blotches.
According to the association, out of 50 people who stopped using the products more than six months ago, 29 have seen improvements in their skin conditions.
Kayoko Matsunaga, a member of the association’s special committee and a professor of Fujita Health University, said the blotches can become significantly less noticeable if a cream used to treat atopic dermatitis is applied for six months.
Fujita, who has treated 20 victims, said those who stopped using the Kanebo products after the July announcement should continue treatment at least for another three months to verify the condition.
The white blotches are said to have been caused by Rhododenol, a brightening ingredient, but how exactly the blotches developed remains unknown.
Kanebo said it suspects ultraviolet rays were a factor, too, since so many cases occurred in summer.