The Japanese government has criticized Kanebo Cosmetics Inc. for its handling of the recall of some 4.36 million skin-whitening products from retailers in Asia and England following complaints that the products cause patchy skin lightening, de-pigmentation and vitiligo-like symptoms. Kanebo approved a recall of the products, which contain the ingredient 4HPB, or Rhododenol—a synthetic version of a compound found in the bark of birch trees—on July 4, 2013, but critics claim that the action came too late. Sources indicate that Kanebo was notified in mid-May that some consumers had experienced de-pigmentation after using the company’s skin-whitening products, but the cosmetics maker neither reported those cases to the government until the end of June nor issued the recall until July. Company executives said that they reported the problem as soon as they could properly assess the situation.

A July 23 Kanebo news release stated that as of July 19, more than 6,800 people had contacted the company with complaints about the products and among these, 2,250 people had reported one of the following symptoms: “depigmentation in three or more areas of the body,” “depigmentation in an area of at least 5 cm” and “clearly visible depigmentation in parts of the face.”

Kanebo reported that it has established a task force to take “full responsibility for the care of all customers who experience vitiligo-like symptoms following the use of the affected products, through to the stage of full recovery,” and that company representatives will visit “each and every customer” with reported symptoms in the coming weeks. “This is an extremely large number [of cases]. I apologize deeply to all people who have been affected,” said Kanebo President and CEO Masumi Natsusaka. “We will make sure we can ensure the full recovery of all our customers.” See, July 23, 2013;, July 25, 2013.