In a recent alert, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned consumers to avoid using skin creams, soaps or lotions that may contain mercury.
Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it affects the nervous system. Mercury exposure may lead to excessive levels of this metal in the body, which can permanently damage or fatally injure the brain and kidneys. Furthermore, mercury may also be absorbed through the skin and cause allergic reactions.
Health problems caused by mercury depend on how much has entered the body, how it entered the body, how long the individual has been exposed to it and how the individual's body responds to the mercury. People may be at risk when they consume mercury-contaminated fish or if they are exposed to spilled mercury. However, since this metal can be absorbed through the skin, the mercury-containing cosmetic products may increase the risk of mercury poisoning as well.
For fetuses, infants and children, mercury poisoning primarily effects nerve development. Even low levels of mercury exposure, such as what may be caused by a mother's consumption of dietary sources such as fish, may negatively affect the brain and nervous systems of fetuses. Impacts on memory, attention, language and other skills have been found in children exposed to moderate levels in the womb.
Mercury-containing cosmetics typically include products that are sold as skin lighteners or anti-aging treatments. However, teenagers may be using anti-acne treatments that also contain mercury.
These mercury-containing products are made in other countries and either illegally sold in the United States, typically in African, Asian, Latino or Middle Eastern specialty shops, or the products are bought in foreign countries by travelers and brought back to United States. Except under certain very specific conditions, cosmetic products manufactured in the United States are prohibited by the FDA from containing significant amounts of mercury.
In the last few years, the FDA and health officials at the state level have identified over 35 cosmetic products that contain unsafe levels of mercury. For instance, health officials in Texas identified a skin cream that contained 131,000 times more mercury than what is allowed to be in cosmetic products by the FDA. In addition, a woman in northern California used an unlabeled face cream from Mexico that caused the levels of mercury in her urine to be 100 times higher than what is considered to be normal. Although the FDA provides a list of these products to field staff who monitor what is imported into the United States and refuse admission of these listed products, consumers can still bring these products into the United States either through international mail or contained in personal luggage.
The FDA and state health officials warns consumers that they should stop using and dispose of any cosmetic products that have words such as "calomel", "mercuric", "mercurio", "mercurous chloride" or "mercury" on the ingredients label. Due to the possible negative environmental effects of mercury, people who discover that their products contain mercury should seal the bottle in a leak-proof container, and get instructions for proper disposal from local environmental, health, or waste agencies. Hazardous waste such as products that contain mercury should not be discarded in normal trash containers.
Listed below are some cosmetic products which have been tested by the Minnesota Department of Health and have been shown to contain too much mercury (greater than one part per million (ppm) as allowed by the FDA). However, it must be noted that this is only a partial list of mercury-containing products, and consumers should still check their product labels to ensure cosmetic product safety:
Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream: 33,000 parts per million
Lulanjina-yellow cream: 16,700 parts per million
Lulanjina-white cream: 12,800 parts per million
Crème Diana C.T.R.: 4,180 to 6,370 parts per million
Qian Mei-white cream: 4,650 parts per million
Qian Mei-yellow cream: 3,540 parts per million
Fasco: 4,600 parts per million
Milk Cream: 4,600 parts per million
Jiao Li: 1,070 to 1700 parts per million
Cream Aghader: 135 parts per million
Savon pour L'acné Diana soap: 4.08 to 31 parts per million
For more information about the signs, symptoms and treatment of mercury poisoning, please visit Natural Standard's Medical Conditions Database.