The culprit is a Japanese-made wheat extract ingredient that was alleged to promote superior moistening of the skin. Instead it set off numerous gluten allergy reactions, even among people with no record of having them. Several of these reactions have been serious enough to require hospitalization.
Consumer protection groups are up in arms about foot dragging by the Consumer Protection Agency and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, who knew about the allergic reactions as early as October 2010, but did not make it public.
“We had to bear in mind the profit and reputation of the manufacturer,” said a Ministry of Health and Welfare spokesman.
Seven months passed after the problem came to light before directives were issued in May and June of this year. There is concern that this delay contributed to the spread of the problem.
The investigation has focused on the Cha no Shizuku (Drop of Green Tea) brand of soap sold by Yuka Cosmetics, a successful mail order brand located in Fukuoka prefecture whose advertisements can be found in many newspapers and magazines across Japan.
According to the Asahi newspaper, by October 2010, various reports of strong allergic reactions to Cha no Shizuku soap had come in to the Ministry of Health and Welfare through various consumer groups.
One case reported was of a woman in her 30s who had washed her face with this soap in the morning, ate toast for breakfast and then left to play tennis. About 15 minutes later, she experienced severe swelling of the face and hands, a drop in blood pressure and loss of control of bodily functions, among other symptoms. When she was rushed to the hospital, she was diagnosed as having a severe gluten-based allergy.
In addition to the recall of all Cha no Shizuku products by Yuka Cosmetics that use the wheat extract (not all of the company’s products contain the ingredient), a total of 33 other products have been voluntarily recalled by other makers that use this same extract, with further action expected to increase the number of products called back.