Japanese cosmetics maker Kanebo on Thursday announced it was recalling 54 skin whitening products from all over Asia after complaints they caused discolouring that does not clear up even after use was discontinued.
The cosmetics contain a substance called 4HPB, a synthetic version developed by Kanebo of a natural compound, the company said.
"Some consumers complained that they had white patches on their skin after using the products, and we suspect a link between the condition and 4HPB," a spokeswoman said.
A company spokesman later told AFP there had been 39 complaints from customers in Japan.
Of those, 15 had shown no improvement in their conditions even after they stopped using the products, he said.
The company has shipped a total of 4.36 million products in Japan and is recalling 450,000 that have already been sold to consumers, as well as all inventory from the domestic market.
It will also recall products on sale abroad. A total of 370,000 items have been sent to overseas markets but at present it plans only to recall items that are on sale.
The recall affects Japan and 10 Asian territories: Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Taiwan is the largest overseas market for the products, a Kanebo spokesman said.
"The problem was initially thought to be a type of skin disease, but there was a growing concern for a link to 4HPB" which led the company to recall the products, the spokesman said.
Skin whitening products are popular among women all over east Asia, with users seeking lighter tones.