U.S. consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co. has suspended sales of its SK-II skincare line in mainland China, pending clarification from the quality watchdog over traces of possibly harmful metals.
The decision to halt sales of SK-II, a line of beauty products made by P&G in Japan, came as China's quality watchdog also urged officials to step up inspection of substandard food imported from Japan.
SK-II believed all its products were safe, but had closed counters selling the beauty line, P&G said in a statement.
SK-II is taking this action until its compliance with the regulations pertaining to trace levels of chromium and neodymium in cosmetics products sold in China is fully clarified, the statement said.
SK-II products, which include whitening agents, facial creams and sunblocks, sell in 14 countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Australia.
P&G this week began to offer refunds to buyers after China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said it had found traces of the metals in the products.
But the company said it had suspended operations at its China refund centers, which have been plagued by public discontent over the speed of the process, offering instead a hotline to handle refund requests.
The quality watchdog also said on Friday some frozen fish exported from Japan had been found to contain excess levels of arsenic, while lead and cadmium was detected in soy bean cooking oil, soy sauce and peanuts.
The products had been tested safe in Japan before export to China, the watchdog said, calling for Japan to be more vigilant to ensure up-to-standard food quality.
P&G spokesman Charles Zhang said on Thursday it was too early to estimate the cost of the refunds in China, the company's second-biggest market in terms of sales volume.
Northeast Asia accounted for 4 percent of P&G group sales in fiscal 2006. The company does not break out sales in China.
P&G would continue to sell the products in Japan and South Korea, the company said in a separate statement.
Shiseido Co. Ltd., Japan's largest cosmetics maker and a major competitor of P&G in China, said it had not been contacted by the Chinese quality watchdog in relation to issues relating to chromium.
Skin-whitening cosmetics are popular throughout Asia, where many women apply creams hoping for a gleaming porcelain hue.
(Additional reporting by Kim So-young in Seoul and Vivi Lin in Beijing)