The Ministry of Health (MOH) has established a Cyberforensic Division, aimed at an aggressive nationwide crackdown on the online beauty industry that has been selling illegal and unregistered products.

Health enforcers have begun by investigating kiosks and beauty parlours based on a list of online businesspeople, who claimed that they have sold thousands of units each to unsuspecting consumers. Some of the products contain hydroquinone, which is known to be fatal in large doses.

They have previously operated carefully to escape the law by not allowing pick-ups and keeping their operating addresses unknown. Any negative testimonial has been deleted from their websites.

The enforcement team of the Pharmaceutical Services Division has been working with the Cyberforensic Division to compile information and evidence against these retailers, according to a source from the MOH.

Bank and telcos cooperate in crackdown

"The cyberforensic team will come out with profiles of those using social media to sell illegal cosmetics, including the injectable kind. They will also zero in on these sellers' contact details and bank accounts," said the source.

Banks and telcos have agreed to cooperate in the investigation by providing addresses linked to the accounts, the source added. The relevant authorities are also looking for help from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to block sites that promote or sell the products.

Enforcers from the Pharmaceutical Services Division have revealed that despite sellers' claims that their products are home-made and do not contain hazardous substances, many have been repackaging imported cosmetic substances from unknown sources in China, Thailand and South Korea.

On these large-scale raids, it was discovered that many of these sellers and manufacturers have been advertising as the original manufacturers of the cosmetics they sell, even going to the extent of using photographs of "chemists" in laboratories formulating their own beauty recipes.

"The crackdown has begun in several states, including Selangor, Penang Terengganu and Johor," the source said. The first phase of enforcement has seen RM2 million worth of illegal products being seized in Kuala Lumpur itself.

MOH proposes amendments for tighter governance of cosmetics

The MOH is also proposing amendments to the laws and regulations that govern the sale of such products. Health director-general Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah said the three acts - the Poisons Act 1952, Sales of Drug Act 1952 and Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act 1956 - would need to be amended to improve the industry's regulating system.

"Among the proposed amendments are the introduction of compounds, an increase in penalties and the strengthening of certain regulations," Dr. Noor Hisham explained.

"The ministry will enhance cooperation with other ministries such as the Home, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism and Science, Technology and Innovation Ministries, as well as the MCMC, to ensure that comprehensive action can be taken against unscrupulous companies," he added.

Currently, all cosmetic products go through a "notification system" that had an auto-screening feature and a push-notification for red-flag prohibited substances or materials that exceeded the set limits.

"Based on the ministry's probe, most of the products involved were not categorised as cosmetics, but were actually pharmaceutical products, which are not registered under the Drug Control Authority," Dr. Noor Hisham said.

He also warned that action will be taken against those who failed to abide the law. Between 2013 and 2016, the MOH has cancelled the notification status of 2,277 cosmetic products and from 2015 until November last year, 12,198 beauty items worth RM8.4 million were seized as they were not notified. 304 websites and social media accounts were also investigated, of which 300 were found to have violated the law.

"Their details have been given to MCMC, Facebook and Google for further action," Dr. Noor Hisham added. MIMS

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