JAPANESE cosmetics giant Kanebo faces a tough battle repairing its brand image with consumer confidence at "rock bottom" after its products left ugly blotches on customers' faces, observers say.
Japan's second-largest cosmetics firm - more than a century old and with its reputation for quality now in tatters - can recover, they say, but it has to move swiftly and surely.
Kanebo's travails are the latest in a long line of public relations disasters that have felled companies of all sizes.
Among the casualties are Boeing's troubled Dreamliner jet and carmaker Toyota, which was forced to recall millions of cars in recent years over safety issues.
A tainted milk scandal in China that left six children dead and sickened more than 300,000 badly scarred the country's dairy industry.
Key to surviving brand-damaging episodes is a quick response that is transparent and genuine, public relations experts say.
In an effort to put a stop to a spiralling PR disaster, Kanebo's president went before the cameras this week to apologise to customers. They included nearly 10,000 people left with uneven pigmentation after using its skin-whitening creams.
The executive pledged to overhaul safety controls at the company while temporarily cutting his salary and that of other senior executives.
But his bid to defuse the situation came as a team of external experts appointed by the firm said it had been late in issuing the recall.
The decision to pull their products from shelves came months after officials had received warnings from doctors who suspected a link between patients suffering skin blotches and the firm's products.
The company - whose brands include Blanchir Superior and Sensai - failed to take early measures and was "obsessed with the idea that the skin discolouration was a disease", said Hideki Nakagome, a lawyer who is heading the probe.
Kanebo's image "has nose-dived to rock bottom", said Yasuko Kono, secretary general of Consumers Japan.
Millions of affected products were removed from store shelves in Japan, Britain and 10 Asian markets including South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Kanebo's parent company, Kao, said it will book a loss of about US$56 million (RM184 million) over compensation costs as its share price dived. AFP