By Bassma Mohammad
Cairo, Egypt (Al-Sabah), June,2015 –
“S”, 40, looks at her disfigured nails and regrets listening to people.Her problem began seven years ago when she began using a nail polish product that is easy to peel off, thereby allowing her to colour her nails repeatedly.
This product, selling for 2 Egyptian Pounds (EGP) compared to between 30 to 100 EGP for licensed brands of nail polish, is locally known as “Islamic nail polish” as it is easy to remove before performing the ablutions. Hence, it became a popular product selling like hot potatoes in impoverished areas.
But “S” was not aware that this product was actually manufactured illegally in so-called “basement” factories.
After months of using the product, “S” started to notice dryness and cracking in her nails followed by disfigurement. Doctors blamed her condition on chemicals used in the easy-to-peel nail polish that seeped onto her skin and prevented blood flow in the nails.
“S” stopped using the product. However, the nail disfigurement still bothers her and she keeps going to hospitals every now and then in the hope that they would completely heal. Doctors warn her that the dangers might be more than just disfigurement.
This lady’s suffering mirrors that of many others who have been affected by a product that is manufactured clandestinely – without proper monitoring by the Ministry of Health. Failure to enforce punitive measures adherent to the Fraud and Counterfeiting Law No. 48/1941, later amended by Law No. 281/1994 has also contributed to this, as this year-long investigative report shows.
Article two of the law states “ any person who knowingly cheats or plans to commit fraud with human or animal food, drugs, medicinal plants, medication, agricultural crops, natural products and fraudulent as well as rotten or expired products, shall be sentenced to a period no less than one year and not more than five years and fined an amount between 10,000 EGP and 30,000 EGP or the equivalent to the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater.”
Higher Court Attorney, Rami Mahmoud says that the special law dealing with cheating and counterfeiting, issued in 1941 which had some of its articles amended in 1994 was no long applicable to the modern crimes being perpetuated, which creates loopholes that permit persons and factories to break the law and get away with their crimes.
According to Mahmoud, the 414 cases that were apprehended involving tampering with nail polish and other cosmetic products have ended with the perpetrators paying a fine that had been eased, that is if they didn’t go free, due to the weakness of the law especially since article two of the said law dealing with punitive measures includes the word “knowingly”. This allows a loophole providing a get out of jail card, as the weaknesses in the law encourages more acts of fraud according to the attorney, because there aren’t enough preventative measures. Those committing the crimes stand to gain thousands of pounds while only having to pay 10,000 in fines whenever they are caught.
This reporter succeeded in gaining access to the sources of these products –“unlicensed” factories that do not adhere to Egyptian standards or specifications and thus produce products that cause damage to skin and nails. The product is distributed in low-income areas away from monitoring eyes.
I met with ladies frequenting 30 different beauty salons in low-income areas such as Sayida Zeinab, Al Attaba, Feisal, Gamra, Al Zawya Al Hamra and Bolaq Ad Dakrour and asked if they were using this easy-to-peel nail polish. The results of this non-scientific questionnaire showed that almost 90% of those going to such beauty salons were using the product.
“G”, 37, became ill after using the product. She initially started feeling an itch near her “first knuckle” beneath her nails. This continued and developed into little bumps that turned into wounds.
When she continues when she went to a dermatology clinic at Al Hawd Al Marsoud Hospital to consult a physician, he told her that the itching was a result of an allergic skin reaction to the counterfeit or low-grade nail polish product she had been using.
Abbas Ahmad, the owner of (Camba) beauty salon in Sayida Zeinab says his customers ask for the low-grade product because it is cheap.
According to Yasser Al Safty, owner of another salon in Al Wihda street in Imbaba, the box of this product retails at 30 pounds ($5). Each box holds 25 bottle selling at one and a half EGP each. The licensed product which is of a better quality costs between 30 and 100 pounds a box – between $5 to $14 dollars a bottle.
Al Safty cites the example of a bride “who to be on the safe side, asked him to apply the nail polish over false nails on her wedding day. However when she removed them part of her real nails also came apart because of the nail polish deposits.”
These products find customers even in the middle and upper class areas in Cairo; beauty salon owner Afaf Wahba says that her clients in Nasr city ask for the easy-to-peel product because of its easy removal prior to ablutions.
This nail polish is also very popular amongst university students. Seventy of the 100 students I interviewed said they used the product because it was cheap and easy to remove. They also confirmed that continued use left nail polish deposits on their nails. This reporter succeeded in finding one of the factories that produced this product in the “Souk Al Samak” area in Sayida Zeinab.
She infiltrated the company pretending to be a university student who was trying to get her hands on some samples in order to carry out scientific research on the product. There she found six workers whose hands were covered with dark spots from the chemicals they have been handling. These chemicals include castor oil, glycerine, glue and gelatine as well as coloured liquids and products that give nail polish a shiny hue. The factory is based in a small apartment; three rooms are used for storing chemicals and empty nail polish bottles as well as brushes that are attached to the bottle caps. The mixing of all chemicals takes place at the main hall. Materials are put inside an old mixer the workers call “the mill”. The latter has been tarnished with many chemicals and produces a loud noise when in operation.
The chemical product is emptied from the mill into large containers in preparation for the filling process, where the product is poured into the tiny bottles with the use of a funnel, after the different colours are added. Also available in the apartment were almost 20 large containers filled with different colours. Once the tiny bottles are filled, they are placed in a carton box and labelled (using an internationally recognized brand name). Each box, which holds up to 25 bottles, is then given to tradesmen who deal in bulk goods to be distributed in Al Attaba and other low-income areas.
Analysing the Specimen
I took the chemical specimen to the Chemistry Authority attached to the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Ramsis Street in Central Cairo to be analysed. Results proved that “it did not adhere to the Egyptian Specifications No. 5011/2005 dealing with Beauty Cosmetic Goods” Dr. Madrous Al Sayed, professor at the alcohol department at the Chemistry Authority, said the specimen showed that drying time was 12 minutes, which is more than the permitted 8 to 10 minutes listed in the specifications. He also said that this meant the amount of solid material or resins in the specimen were not correct, which in turn affects the drying period and causes sensitivity to those using the product.
It was also proved that the percentage of sold material reached 34, which is 16% less than the minimum level accepted by the Egyptian specifications set out by the Ministry of Health. The level of solvents in the specimen stood at 69.2% compared with the 90% minimum accepted level.
The actual sticky layer of the nail polish level was not strong enough which caused breakage on the nail leaving small particles all over the skin and nail and possibly reaching the clothes and body. According to Ahmad Abdul Aleem, the chemist at the National Centre for Research, this causes skin allergies on both hands and body. The solvents included toluene, which is a colourless substance that gives the polish a unified colour as well as alcohol, ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, diacetone and ppG-2 butyl ether. Ethyl acetate gives the product a shine and the butyl acetate helps with the drying process.
The butyl ether helps maintain the nail polish after it has been applied, as for the diacetone, it reacts with the acetone to aid in removing the polish after it has been peeled off.
|Egyptian Specifications for Beauty Cosmetic Products|
|1 – The product should be easy to apply and easy to remove with nail polish remover|
|2 – The product should be thick and not spill easily|
|3 – The product should not leave any deposits on the nail once it has been removed|
|4 – The drying period should not exceed 6 minutes for one layer with the exception of the peel off nail polish, the drying period for which should not exceed 8 – 10 min.|
|5 – The product should pass the stickiness test|
|6 – The product should pass the heavy particles test|
|7 – The product should pass the water resistance test|
|8 – Solid materials in the product should not exceed 20%|
Egyptian Specifications for Beauty Cosmetic Products
1 – The product should be easy to apply and easy to remove with nail polish remover
2 – The product should be thick and not spill easily
3 – The product should not leave any deposits on the nail once it has been removed
4 – The drying period should not exceed 6 minutes for one layer with the exception of the peel off nail polish, the drying period for which should not exceed 8 – 10 min.
5 – The product should pass the stickiness test
6 – The product should pass the heavy particles test
7 – The product should pass the water resistance test
8 – Solid materials in the product should not exceed 20%
Treatment is Costly
Dermatologist Dr. Mustapha Abbas says the treatment for removing nail polish deposits from the nails does not require ointments or topical creams, but capsules used for nail disfigurement. This includes the active ingredient Itraconazol for a period no less than three months at a cost of 500 pounds ($66).
Dr. Abbas adds that “doctors resort to removing the infected nail in the hope that a new healthy nail would grow out, but this is wrong as the nail would be prone to fungus and bacteria from the nail polish that is not adherent to specifications, which would cause a recurrent infection”.
Dangers might lead to Cancer
Dr. George Atallah, head of the Complaints and Investigations Committee at the Pharmacist’s Union says the easy-to-peel nail polish has become widespread due to negligence in the monitoring process by inspectors from the Ministries of Supply and Health. Dr. Atallah explains that any health product has to undergo a rigorous inspection process at the Ministry as well as pharmaceutical inspection and research labs in order to determine whether there are any side effects. However, the peel off nail polish does not pass through such inspections, making its existence in the market quite disastrous.
Dr. Mahfouz Ramzi, member of the Pharmacist’s Union and owner of Hero Pharma for Beauty Products, agrees with this assessment saying that “some of the materials in this product can lead to skin cancer if used for long periods, such as formaldehyde which is a preserving substance used in nail polish.”
“The level of solvents in the polish is also very low which means that the product is more likely to leave deposits that would seep into body therefore becoming even more dangerous with prolonged use.”
Mohammad Al Bahi, Beauty Cosmetics expert at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, calls on the Minister of Industry to be more vigilant and apply the rules on both large and small industries equally so they can be monitored for adherence to guidelines and specifications.
He believes that the “basement factories have an unfair advantage as they use cheap and bad resources that do not adhere to specifications and despite this, monitoring is absent.”
Meanwhile Legal Consultant Ahmad Jad says that Law No. 281/1994 prefers the application of punitive measures in cases of fraud. However, many cases are given lighter sentences when the rulings are appealed, and maybe even completely dropped due to mistakes happening during apprehension.
The official spokesman for the Ministry of Supply Mahmoud Diab denies any negligence on its part in monitoring. He says as soon as they receive information about a factory that is in violation, an inspection committee is put together from both Ministries of Health and Industry including supply inspectors who take samples from the factory and submit a report. And if it turns out the that the samples do not adhere to specifications, the factory is shut down and the owners and employees are dealt with legally.
According to a communiqué from the Supply Police, 414 cases were registered by the authorities in 2014 involving counterfeit or unknown cosmetic products. The report stated that 364145 million beauty products were confiscated last year, as was 110955 tonnes and 1770 litres of material. The items were all destroyed and a report was sent to the court of misdemeanours specializing in commercial fraud.
Chart with the topic: Commercial Fraud Law N. 281/1994
Article 1 –An imprisonment period of no less than one year and a fine of no less than 5,000 EGP and not to exceeding 20,000 EGP or the equivalent of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater or one of those punitive measures shall be enforced on anyone who deceived, or attempted to deceive someone he has contracted with in any of the following manner:
1. If the quality of the goods do not match what has been agreed upon.
2. The actual goods or their type or contents and whatever they include of use in general or their ingredients.
3. The type of goods, their place of origin or source in the cases where it is considered – in accordance with the agreement or norms- type, place of origin or source fraudulent to the goods a major reason for agreement.
4. The amount of goods, worth, measurement, volume, weight, capacity or voltage. The punishment shall be imprisonment for a period no less than one year and not exceeding five years and a fine of no less than 10,000 EGP and not exceeding 30,000 EGP or what is equivalent to the cost of goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater or one of those punitive measures, if the crime committed is what has been referred to in the previous paragraph or if planned to commit, using balances, measurements, scales, brands and counterfeit testing equipment as well as different from or by use of different methods or manners through which the measuring of the weight of the goods, their capacity, volume or their testing is inaccurate.
Article 2 – An imprisonment period of no less than one year and no more than five years and a fine of no less than 10,000 EGP and not exceeding 30,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater shall be enforced on anyone who:
1. knowingly cheats or plans to commit fraud with human, animal foods, drugs, medicinal plants, medication, agricultural crops, natural products or industrial products prepared for sale as well as put up for sale or sold any of these foods, drugs, medicinal plants, medication or products that are fraudulent or rotten or expired.
2. Makes, presents, puts up for sale, sold any products, boxes and envelopes used to cheat human and animal foods, drugs, medicinal plants, medication, agricultural crops, natural products or industrial products in a manner that may render them not useable in a legitimate manner or plans to cheat, or anyone who instigates or uses to commit fraud by means of notebooks and publications or through any other means whatever they may be.
The imprisonment period shall be no less than two years and not to exceeding seven years while the fine shall be no less than 20,000 EGP and not to exceeding 40,000 EGP pounds or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater if the foods, drugs, medicinal plants, medication or the products are fraudulent, rotten or expired or the goods that were cheated were no good for human or animal consumption. The punitive measures stated in this article shall be enforced even if the buyer or the consumer was aware that the products were fraudulent or rotten or expired.
Article 3 – Anyone who obtained with the intention of illegal tender any foods or product or any of the above-mentioned goods shall be imprisoned for a period no less than six months and fined an amount of no less than three thousand Egyptian pounds and not to exceeding 10,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater or one of these punishments.
The imprisonment period shall be no less than one year and the fine no less than 5,000 EGP and not to exceeding 20,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater, if the goods obtained where drugs, medicinal plants or medications that are used for the treatment of humans and animals.
The imprisonment period shall be no less than one year and not to exceeding five years and the fine no less than 10,000 EGP and not exceeding 30,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater, if the foods, products, drugs, medicinal plants, medications or any goods that are referred to in the previous article are harmful to humans and animals.
Article 3 recurrent – Anyone who knowingly imports or brings into the country any human, animal foods, drugs, medicinal plants, medication, agricultural crops, natural products or industrial products that are fraudulent, rotten or expired shall be imprisoned for a period no less than a year and not to exceeding five years and fined an mount no less than 25,000 EGP and not exceeding 100,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater.
The concerned authorities shall handle the destruction of the goods at the expense of the importer. If the information is not available, then the authorities shall set a time to re-export the fraudulent, rotten or expired goods and if this is not carried out at the given time the goods will be destroyed at his expense.
Article 4 – If as a result of the crimes mentioned in Articles 1, 2, 3, and 3 recurrent any person is permanently injured the punishment shall be imprisonment and a fine of no less than 25,000 EGP and not exceeding 40,000 Egyptian pounds or the equivalent of the cost of the goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater. If the government enforces Article 17 of the punitive act in this case, it is not permissible to lower the punishment tied to release for one-year imprisonment.
And if as a result of any of the crimes any person or more dies the punishment shall be life imprisonment with hard labour and a fine of no less than 50,000 EGP and not exceeding 100,000 EGP or the equivalent of the cost of goods involved in the crime, whichever is greater.
This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) – www.arij.net –