The Realities of Illegal Cosmetics in Indonesia

A recent article in a Jakarta daily talked about the destruction of more than 25,000 cosmetics, drugs, and foods of the illegal variety by the Banjarmasin Food and Drugs Office. The total value of these illegal goods raked up a cool USD 25,882, which is not insignificant for the city of under 700,000 people.

About a week before I read this news, I attended a talk show by the Indonesian Cosmetics Enterprise Association (PPAK) on the dangers of purchasing illegal cosmetics. PPAK invited representatives from different legislative, administrative, and law enforcement bodies to speak on their respective roles in keeping the public safe from the threat of illegal cosmetics. It was a really interesting look into the circulation of cosmetics in the country, and a little bit frustrating too once I realized how many redundancies exist within the system.

Here are the stripped-down basics: 1/5 of all cosmetics and medication sold are fake, with annual sales hitting close to IDR 9 billion. Like the Ministry of Trade (Kemendag), BPOM has two mechanisms to protect consumers from illegal cosmetics, and a sixty-strong task force spread across different regions and communities. BPOM handles pre-registration, production checks, and product sampling of goods before and after they are released to the market to make sure they do not contain illegal substances, while the Ministry of Trade establishes consumer protection laws, including a 1999 ratification of a consumer’s right to purchase safe products. The Indonesian Consumers Organization (YLKI) serves as a watchdog to complaints made by consumers and cosmetics companies alike, which are then reviewed and passed on to a law enforcement agency.

One of the law enforcement agencies present at the talk show was Polda Metro Jaya, which has the right to press preventive and repressive sanctions on individuals and groups that break consumer protection laws. Under health laws already in place, such groups would be fined IDR 15 billion and sentenced to 15 years in jail. The Ministry of Communication (Kemenkom) openly admits that it is having a difficult time keeping up with the proliferation of online stores that might be selling illegal products. A 2008 law is already in place to penalise individuals and institutions that dupe customers, and its jurisdiction limits its actions to nothing harsher than investigations.

The government body whose position is most difficult might be the Monetary Authority’s Taxation Office (Dirjen Pajak), whose chief concern strictly lies with making sure all taxes are paid for. This body’s only concern is for companies to pay taxes on their products, regardless of whether or not they are safe for the consumer. In other countries, the levy of a government tax on a product reassures the consumer of the product’s legality, and in effect, the product’s passing a government’s health and safety standards. Our taxation authority is working on achieving this same standard, but it can’t do it without the full cooperation and potency of its sister agencies.

Phew! That’s a lot of watchdog bodies to basically take on the very same tasks, but how does IDR 9 billion worth of illegal cosmetics still make it out to the market? It’s not uncommon for the YLKI to report the presence of mercury and heavy metals in many skin whitening creams. Maybe it’s time to review the exact roles of these government bodies, update laws regarding the production and circulation of consumer-grade products, and push for the full extent and unforgiving total implementation of sanctions already in place. In the meantime, all we can do as consumers is educate ourselves on ingredients used in beauty products and try our best to be as well-informed as possible. One of the best things we can do for our skin and our health is err on the side of all things natural. You can’t go wrong from products that are synthesized from natural materials that are already renowned for their cosmetic benefits, such as carrots, coconut oil, and coffee.

Hands up if your capacity to function like a normal adult human being is dependent on coffee! Homegrown multinational cosmetics giant, Mustika Ratu, is continuing its quest by harvesting safe, nature-inspired beauty solutions by going back to basics. It continues to reap the benefits already found in nature by taking advantage of the health properties found in coffee. Back in my university days, I loved waking up to the smell of my roommates brewing a cup of joe, and I drank a LOT of it before being forced to cut back for health reasons. I’ve managed to cut down to two cups in the morning, but sometimes after we’ve had a little too much at lunch and are plagued by a case of the afternoon sleepies, Grisselda and I will take a quick walk over to our nearest Starbucks for a caffeinated pick-me-up.

The health benefits of coffee are celebrated by addicts everywhere: coffee has properties that can help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, alzheimer’s, oral cancer, and a slew of other illnesses. Happily, the largest organ in your body can also benefit from your latte-based dependency: ground coffee makes for an effective scrub that can help reduce cellulite, brighten skin, and even keep it from getting inflamed thanks to its antihistamine properties.

Mustika Ratu’s wide-ranging body care line now comes in this brand new coffee variety, with caffeine extracts containing antioxidants to keep skin supple. It is available in body soap, body scrub, and body butter forms to help bring a glow to your skin. A friend of mine has already sung the praises of the body scrub and how it has helped make her skin smooth, while I’m a fan of the hydrating body butter. The scrub and body butter retails at Rp. 35,000, a pretty good deal once you consider that you are supporting a locally-owned and produced that turns to mother nature for for safe, effective skin care solutions.

Bottom line, don’t mess around with illegal cosmetics that may contain toxic ingredients harmful to your health. It is super easy to access safe, reasonably-priced beauty products made at our own doorstep thanks to brands like Mustika Ratu. So in your personal quest to stay gorgeous, you need to stay educated and stay away from dodgy beauty products.