Beauty salon licencing drive follows skin cream fatality

Parlours will be required to have documentation, but no deadline set yet, officials say.

Tith Thida, 16
“I used skin-whitening cream over a month ago and I didn’t have any problems. It made my skin whiter than before and I feel happy when my skin looks so white. I am not afraid of it affecting my skin or health because the shop owner told me she uses good, quality products.”

BEAUTY salons in Phnom Penh will soon have to be licenced in order to operate, health officials said Tuesday, adding that they will begin checking next week whether local parlours have the proper documents.

The move comes after the death earlier this month of a Banteay Meanchey province woman who suffered a fatal reaction to skin-whitening cream, and also follows a stern warning from Prime Minister Hun Sen over the use of unsafe cosmetic products.

Heng Bun Keat, director of the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drug Department, said he had received a letter from ministry officials Tuesday empowering his department to oversee the licencing of all beauty salons in Phnom Penh, but that a deadline has yet to be set.

“I don’t know how many beauty salons there are in Phnom Penh or the rest of the country, but I will lead my team in determining how many in the capital have licences,” he said, adding that this is a new role for his department.
He anticipated that officials could survey all beauty salons in Phnom Penh by the end of April, and said that during the initial survey there would be no closures of shops due to the lack of licences.

“The first time we check, we won’t crack down on their business if they don’t have a licence, we will just warn them to get the licence from the ministry,” he said.

There is only one confirmed case of death ... that we know about.

According to Heng Bun Keat, the new licencing drive came about following the death of 23-year-old Chhuon Sovann, who began vomiting after she started using a skin-whitening cream on March 2.
So Lida, 30
“I’ve whitened my skin two times already, but now I’ve stopped using skin-whitening creams because I couldn’t stand the cream’s smell, and I got headaches. But it was good when I used that cream because it made my skin whiter and eliminated scars. I have to wear long clothes when I go outside because the sun makes my skin feel like its burning.”

Chhuon Sovann, who died the following Sunday after falling unconscious, had been applying Vietnamese Bao Dam-brand cream. Other Bao Dam products have been found to contain mercury.

Before her death, Hun Sen told health officials in a speech to penalise those who “cause damage to public health” by selling dangerous products or cosmetic services, and he appealed to Khmer women to protect their “natural beauty”.

“There is only one confirmed case of death from the use of skin-whitening cream that we know about,” Heng Bun Keat said Tuesday, adding, however, that there could be more deaths of which the Ministry of Health is unaware and urging customers to go only to beauty salons with licences.

“When a shop has a licence, it means their products and services are good quality,” he said.

Chheng Srey Mao, 25, the owner of Heang Ryna Beauty Shop in Phnom Penh, said Tuesday that she obtained permission from the ministry before she opened her shop, but added that she does not know what officials will come to check about next week.

“My shop has been open one year already, but I have never seen any health officials come by to check my shop,” she said.

She added that she sells skin-whitening creams to her customers and has never received a complaint, although she knows that such products can have negative impacts on her customers’ skin.

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