A shopkeeper has been jailed for 20 months for selling illegal and toxic skin lightening products, in the first custodial sentence of its kind.
Mohammed Iqbal Bharodawala, 45, and his company Jenny’s Cosmetics Limited admitted nine charges of selling the products which contain banned ingredient hydroquinone.
The father-of-six also admitted 15 charges relating to inadequate labelling of the harmful products, which were confiscated by Southwark Council in January.
Hydroquinone, banned in the UK in 2001, causes skin damage and is linked to damage of the liver and nervous system.
The businessman was also disqualified from being a company director for four years, and the company fined £1,500.
His 35-year-old brother, Abdul Kadar Bharodawala, who ran shop Jenny’s Online Ltd, was sentenced to 80 hours unpaid work at Inner London Crown Court, and the company fined £500.
His charges related to the marketing of products containing hydroquinone and a failure to label them properly.
Judge Freya Newbery, sentencing, told the defendants: “There’s no doubt that you knew what your obligations were as a distributor of cosmetics products and you should not have been marketing products which contained banned substances, especially hydroquinone.
“I’m quite satisfied you knew exactly what you were selling and sourced them for the people who wanted to buy them from you.
Citing research by Southwark Council’s Trading Standards, she added: “It’s relevant that… a desire for fairer skin is driven by deep-rooted complex and social, cultural and historical reasons.
“Here, it seems to me that the marketing and sale of products you were engaged in exploits anxieties and sensitivities of women and men who are culturally and socially motivated to purchase those products which lighten their skin and risk causing damage in the process.”
An inspection by Southwark Council in January led to 260 items being seized from the shop floor and stockroom at Jenny’s Cosmetics in East Street, south-east London.
A test purchase of three products on eBay revealed similar products were also being sold by Jenny’s Online Limited run by father-of-four Abdul.
Of the items purchased online, a Grace Duo lightening cream was found to contain 17.6% hydroquinone after being sent for analysis.
Some of the products seized also failed to display the names and addresses of a manufacturer, breaching EU regulation.
Mohammed, of Heigham Road in east London, was previously handed down a 12-month suspended sentence and £1,300 fine in November 2015 for similar offences.
Prosecuting, Richard Heller said: “Mohammed would have been well aware of his obligation as a distributor of the product, having been prosecuted for similar offences.
“It is the Crown’s case that the products were intentionally sold in the knowledge that they should not be.”
The court also heard how Mohammed had applied for an application to have his company struck off, and that he had recently changed the name of his shop to Jenny’s Hair and Wigs.
The majority of previous cases have resulted in financial penalties.
Shopkeeper Banaras Hussain was fined and given a 15-week suspended sentence in February after he was found selling similar products at a cosmetics shop in Peckham, south-east London.
His sentencing was also part of a crackdown by Southwark Council, which Judge Newbery praised as valuable.
The pair were also ordered to pay court costs.
Mohammed will serve half of his term in custody.
Councillor Evelyn Akoto, of Southwark Council, told the Press Association: “It’s sending out a strong message to all the vendors of illegal skin lightening creams that we are actively pursuing you, we are actively going to seek you out and prosecute you as and when we find you.
“It is also a clear message to those using the product that they shouldn’t use it, one because it’s illegal and two, because of the serious side-effects that this cream produces.”
She added that the case was an impetus for the council’s Trading Standards to keep fighting “because we know that this is just the tip of the iceberg”.