Regardless of your skin type, you need to use products that do more benefit to your skin than harm. While shopping for your ideal beauty product, take heed to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) warning about lotions, skin creams and soaps that have mercury.

What is the best way to determine if a cosmetic product has mercury—in particular those labeled as skin lightening or anti-aging? Just look at the label and see if you can find the terms mercury, mercuric, mercurio, calomel or mercurous chloride. If you see any of these terms in the product, then it means it has mercury, and you need to stop using it.

These products are usually sold as anti-aging products and skin lighteners that eliminate freckles, blemishes, spots and wrinkles. Some teenagers use products like these for acne.

The FDA’s Office Regulatory Affairs representative Jason Humbert claims these products are made overseas and are marketed illegally in the US.  Ethnic shops targeting Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and African communities often sell these products. Social media sites and other online outlets also market these products. Some people buy these products overseas and bring them back to the United States.

You can’t just assume a product is okay if the ingredients are not listed. It’s against federal law to fail to disclose the ingredients of a nonprescription or cosmetic product. So if the product has no ingredients listed, it is highly recommended you do not use the product Also, don’t use products that have ingredients listed in another language because that’s also a sign of an illegally marketed product.

These products may be marketed as cosmetic products, but they are not FDA-approved.  The only time the FDA allows mercury to be used in a drug or cosmetics is when that’s the only alternative for an efficient preservative. However, this is not the case in these illegal products.

Injunctions, enforcement action, legal seizure of all merchandise, and criminal prosecution are possible consequences for distributors and sellers who market these products.

Mercury is dangerous

The negative consequences of using mercury go far beyond that of the person using the product. It also affects the entire environment where the product is used.

Mercury vapors can be inhaled that are released from the products. Also, people in the house can touch objects like towels or washcloths that have absorbed the vapors.  Pregnant women and women who are nursing are vulnerable to mercury poisoning because the mercury can affect the unborn baby’s brain and nervous system, and it can be passed on to breast milk if a mother is breastfeeding. Other populations, including young children may be highly vulnerable to mercury poisoning.

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FDA has notified health care professionals and warned consumers not to use skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps or lotions that might contain the toxic metal mercury. These products, found in at least seven states, claim to be skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles. Adolescents may use them to treat acne. They are manufactured abroad and sold illegally in the United States—often in shops in Latino, Asian, African or Middle Eastern neighborhoods, and online—or brought to the U.S. from other countries. FDA and state health officials have found more than 35 products containing unacceptable levels of mercury.

Risk: Mercury poisoning can cause damage to the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with brain development in unborn children and very young children.

Recommendations

  • Check the label of any skin lightening, anti-aging, or other skin product. If there is no label or no ingredients listed, do not use the product.
  • Do not use—or immediately stop using—products that list these ingredients: mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, mercurio or mercury.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and any other body parts that have come in contact with the product.
  • Contact a health care professional or medical clinic for advice.