High Street shops that were prosecuted for selling illegal skin-whitening creams are continuing to do so, an investigation has revealed.
Trading Standards acknowledged “it’s a really big problem” and more could be done to regulate the industry.
Substances containing hydroquinone and mercury are banned from being sold over-the-counter in the UK. The substances can cause liver, nerve and foetal damage.
But a lack of resources and data is making the problem hard to tackle.
A previous BBC investigation revealed the banned cosmetics were being sold across the UK.
Trading Standards is responsible for seizing the creams and prosecuting businesses that sell them. However, it appears convicted shop owners are undeterred by these fines, and are continuing to sell the products.
Undercover journalists visited 17 shops across Manchester, London, Leeds and Birmingham to see how many illegal products they could purchase. Six of these shops had been previously prosecuted for selling the creams.
A total of 13 shops were found to sell products containing illegal substances.
Of the prosecuted shops, four out of the six re-sold banned products.
Meg Chucks was fined £1,400 as well as £1,040 of legal costs in October 2017. She sold skin-bleaching products at her TM Cosmetics in Moston, Greater Manchester. Fifty-one products in her shop contained hydroquinone.
Before being prosecuted, Ms Chucks had been warned by Trading Standards for importing similar types of products via Manchester Airport.
But despite warnings and fines, the BBC has undercover footage of her still selling a skin-whitening cream.
Ms Chucks admitted to an undercover researcher that she used the product herself. She claimed she did not know it was illegal, despite hydroquinone being listed as an ingredient on the box.
In Manchester, a freedom of information request (FoI) revealed Ms Chucks was the only shop owner to be prosecuted in 2017-18 for selling skin-whiteners.
BBC researchers also reportedly found prohibited substances in other Manchester shops.