Mercury Exposure from Skin-Whitening Beauty Cream Linked to Vision Problems, CNN Reports

The CDC warned about the risks of skin-whitening cream in 2019 following reports of mercury exposure.

A new report by CNN raises concerns that some skin-whitening creams contain high levels of mercury, which can have adverse health effects, including vision loss.

CNN was given access to a case study conducted by Dr. Erin Batdorrf, with the Minnesota Poison Control System, which details how a Minnesota mother suffered partial vision loss after mercury exposure linked to beauty creams for skin whitening.

Skin lightener creams are promoted as having the ability to lighten or whiten one’s skin color, as well as fix uneven skin tones and blemishes. Some of the products may also be marketed for acne treatments.

However, the report indicates that some of the products contain dangerous levels of mercury, and points out that there have been cases of mercury poisoning dating back to 2012, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The California Department of Public Health has received more than 60 methyl mercury poisonings related to skin care products over the last decade.

The CNN report is part of an ongoing investigative series, titled “White Lies”, and indicates that the Minnesota woman suffered a number of adverse health effects, including insomnia, leg pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, and the loss of peripheral vision. After the woman was referred to Dr. Batdorff, it was found that she had elevated levels of mercury in her blood and urine.

The vision loss from mercury poisoning is believed to be permanent.

A search of her home found high levels of mercury in multiple locations, including her children’s bedrooms and bedding, in the laundry area and on towels. Investigators say the source of the mercury was probably beauty creams, many of which were marketed as skin-whitening products, found in the woman’s home and in the homes of women with similar symptoms and high levels of mercury in their blood and urine as well.

Two of the products found in her home, which she bought abroad, had levels of mercury several thousand times higher than the 1 part per million (ppm) allowed by federal cosmetics regulations. However, neither product, which were unnamed in the report, listed mercury as an ingredient.

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Mercury Exposure Risks

Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause kidney damage, kidney failure and cause damage to the body’s nervous system. Methyl mercury exposure has also been found to 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.

The FDA has warned the side effects of skin lightening products can include a variety of ailments, from severe acne to damage to the nervous system. In some cases the skin can become thin and bruise easily or turn blue-black in certain spots. In some cases, the creams have also been found to cause hypertension and throw off the body’s natural balance of steroids.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning in December 2019, after recognizing certain skin lightening creams may be tainted with extremely toxic and high levels of methyl mercury, which may cause serious and permanent damage to consumers.

The CDC warned consumers to only use skin lightening creams that are sold through verified retailers, and to never use homemade, unlabeled or imported skin creams not approved for sale in the U.S.

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