Illegal injections of a cancer-treating chemical, used to whiten the skin pose a risk of death to legions of Filipinos, warn health authorities.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suspects the drug glutathione is being injected in high doses as a skin-whitener, but said it can cause serious conditions including kidney failure and blood poisoning.
It has issued advice against taking regular injections of the chemical -- approved only for treating cancer -- because the government suspects licensed skin doctors are among its purveyors, said spokeswoman Jesusa Joyce Cirunay.
"We have been getting reports that they are being administered by people who have experience in injecting medicines," Cirunay told AFP.
She said the agency had monitored many cases of glutathione use resulting in ailments, but gave no figures.
The agency said that claims had been made that glutathione whitened the skin by deactivating the enzyme tyrosinase, which helps produce melanin, the pigment that gives human skin its colour.
But these claims have been widely disputed, the agency said.
It warned that repeated injections of the drug could lead to kidney failure, blood poisoning and toxic epidermal necrolysis, in which a large portion of the skin peels off, exposing the human body to many infections.
"The alarming increase in the unapproved use of glutathione administered intravenously as a skin-whitening agent at very high doses is unsafe and may result in serious consequences to the health of users," its advisory said.
The government is gathering evidence that could lead to prosecutions, Cirunay said without giving details.
Skin-whitening treatments and products including soaps, lotions and deodorants are popular in the Philippines and other Asian countries.