Skin Lighteners, Anti-Aging Products May Cause Mercury Poisoning: FDA

A number of skin lightening creams and anti-aging products that were imported from other countries may contain toxic levels of mercury, federal health officials are warning. 

The FDA issued a mercury poisoning warning on March 6, urging consumers not to use skin lighteners and similar products being sold illegally in the United States, primarily in immigrant neighborhoods.

The products, which may also be marketed for acne treatments, contain dangerous levels of mercury that has lead to cases of mercury poisoning.

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Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause kidney damage and kidney failure, can damage the nervous system and can also cause developmental problems in unborn and young children.

The skin creams do not have to be applied to the skin to do damage. The fumes alone can harm everyone in a household where the creams are being used, particularly infants and children.

Cases of mercury poisoning and elevated levels of mercury in the body have been found in California, Texas, Maryland, New York and Virginia, the FDA reports. In Texas, health officials found a face cream with 131,000 times the amount of mercury allowable by law and a teenager in southern Texas was hospitalized. In California, a woman using an unlabeled cream containing mercury had 100 times the normal amount of mercury in her urine and even family members who had not used the cream, including a four-year-old boy, had elevated levels of mercury in their bodies.

The creams are being sold in neighborhood shops in African, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern communities in at least seven states and are also sold online. To date, the FDA has identified more than 35 products with unacceptable levels of mercury, but many still get into the country through mail orders, personal baggage and other back-channel means.

The FDA is advising consumers to check the label of any skin lightening, anti-aging or other skin products for the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury.” The agency warns that consumers should stop using any product with those words on the ingredient list or label. If it has no label or no list of ingredients, do not use the product. Federal law requires all cosmetic or drug products to carry a list of ingredients on the label.

The FDA also advises anyone who has been using these products to stop immediately, thoroughly wash any part of the body that the substance has come into contact with and to contact their health care provider for advice.

If you have a product that you have determined has mercury in it, dispose of it by sealing it in a plastic bag or leak-proof container before throwing it away. Consumers with questions can call the Poison Center at (800) 222-1222.

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