BPOM head Penny K. Lukito gives a briefing on illegal cosmetics at the BPOM headquarters in Central Jakarta on Wednesday. (JG Photo/Tara Marchelin)

Not Everything's On Fleek: Illegal Cosmetics on the Rise in Indonesia


MARCH 05, 2020

Jakarta. Illegal cosmetics dominated cases of regulation violations handled by Indonesia's food and drug supervisory agency last year as demand for beauty products skyrocketed in the country. 

Cases involving illegal cosmetics accounted for 144 out of the total 335 cases, or 43 percent of the food and drug regulation violations handled by the National Drug and Food Control Agency (BPOM).


"There's a very high demand for cosmetics and beauty products in Indonesia, not only from women but also men," BPOM head Penny K. Lukito said on Wednesday.

"Criminals are taking advantage of them to scoop exorbitant profits. Consumers have to be careful and smarter," Penny said. 

The growing demand for beauty products was also reflected in the value of cosmetics the agency confiscated in the past three years. In 2019, the BPOM seized Rp 186 billion ($13 million) worth of illegal cosmetics, more than double the Rp 78.2 billion in 2018 and Rp 72.6 billion in 2017.

Penny said online marketplaces have been an obstacle for the agency to clamp down on illegal cosmetics.

Indonesia's archipelagic geography also makes it easier for smugglers to operate freely, she said. 

Whitening Cosmetics

The country's obsession with pale white skin is one of the main factors that drives demand for illegal cosmetics, said Mayagustina Andriani, BPOM's deputy for traditional medicine, cosmetic and health supplement supervision. 

Mayagustina said the most common ingredients in illegal cosmetics seized by the BPOM are mercury and hydroquinone, two substances that give an instant whitening effect.

"Many Indonesians still think that fair skin is the very definition of beauty. That's totally wrong, healthy skin makes people beautiful, no matter what color it is," she said.

To protect Indonesian consumers from illegal cosmetics, Penny said, the BPOM has been conducting a comprehensive surveillance program comprising pre-market surveillance, including research and development, production and notification process; and post-market surveillance including infrastructure inspection, product sampling and testing, advertisement and label monitoring, and side effect monitoring.

"We also require every product to attach digitalized information [on their packaging], including certificates of authenticity and integrity, and put a QR code on so consumers can read it on their smartphones," Penny said.

Consumer Participation

Penny said the surveillance will also depend on participation from producers and consumers to succeed.

"Cosmetics companies are responsible for producing safe and high-quality cosmetics as well as maintaining moral and ethical standards to protect the safety of the consumers," she said.

Mayagustina said cosmetics companies are required to do side effect monitoring but consumers should report to BPOM if they experience any unwanted side effects after using a cosmetic product.

Reporting unwanted side effects would allow the BPOM to review and change its cosmetic product policies.

"If a consumer experiences an unwanted side effect but immediately throws out the product without making a report, policymakers won't be able to make any change or create the right policy," Mayagustina said.

According to her, the most effective way to eradicate illegal cosmetics is to cut demand by raising consumer awareness of the dangers of illegal cosmetics.

To that end, the BPOM has collaborated with the Puteri Indonesia Foundation to brief the Puteri Indonesia 2020 pageant finalists on the dangers of illegal cosmetics and appoint them as the country's safe cosmetics ambassadors.

Since many of these Puteri Indonesia finalists will become celebrities who would endorse cosmetic and beauty products for a living, they must be made aware of the dangers of illegal cosmetics, according to Penny.  

"It's a big responsibility to provide reviews of a cosmetic product. They have to do it very carefully since their audience will copy what they do, and use the cosmetics they use, often without considering if the product is actually suitable for their skin," Kevin Liliana, the 2017 safe cosmetic ambassador, said after the briefing at the BPOM headquarters in Central Jakarta.

Endorsement Ethics

On the subject of commercial endorsement, Penny said a celebrity has to ensure the product they plug on social media or on other platforms has been registered with the BPOM and that its benefit claims are not exaggerated.

"Cosmetic products should not claim to cure something because cosmetics are not medicine. Cosmetics only aims to clean, protect, perfume and take care of the body, or keep it in good condition," Penny said.

Penny said a celebrity endorser has to try the product for themselves and check its packaging, label, distribution permit and expiry date before recommending it to their followers.