Why Skin Lightening Cream Sucks Because It May Have Mercury Not Listed in Ingredients
UPDATE AUGUST 2016: New information about mercury in skin lightening creams is offered below (in italics) before the original article.
A recent study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology has revealed how common it is for mercury and other dangerous substances to be found in skin lightening products originating from countries around the world. One of the critical findings in the study was that of the skin lightening products found to contain mercury, none of them listed the toxin on the ingredient label. Therefore, even if a skin lightening product has an ingredient panel, it does not mean the manufacturer has revealed the presence of mercury.
In the study, investigators evaluated 29 products, and 22 of them contained illegal or banned ingredients, including mercury (12 products), steroids (13), and hydroquinone (11). The 22 products came from Italy (6), India (5), Democratic Republic of Congo (5), Cote d’Ivoire (2), USA (2), UK (1), and France (1). Two products contained all of the offensive ingredients.
One of the limitations of this study was that it did not include all internationally available skin lightening products. However, the findings serve as a warning that mercury and other dangerous substances are commonly found in these cosmetics and that the labels often do not reveal that information.
Many readers have posted questions here asking whether the skin lightening cream they are using contains mercury. Unfortunately, the lack of reliable information on these products has made it impossible for me to answer the questions with any certainty in most cases. Given that mercury is highly toxic, it’s better to stop using any product not verified to be mercury-free rather than risk your health. As an alternative, you can use natural means to lighten the skin, such as lemons, orange, yogurt, honey, gram flour, turmeric, and aloe vera gel.
Original Article: Scientists have found a new, faster way to detect mercury in skin lightening creams. Do you use such creams and could they be contaminated?
Some skin lightening creams have a highly undesirable ingredient that can prove hazardous to your health. To better protect consumers, a team of scientists has reported that they can now identify which creams contain dangerous levels of mercury much more quickly than they could in the past.
Both women and men seek skin lightening creams, which are popular among certain cultures and areas of the world, including Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. However, a combination of availability of skin lightening creams via the Internet, in ethnic stores, and from family and friends who travel and bring them to the US and other countries has broadened the risk to more and more people.
At the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Gordon Vrdoljak, PhD, of the California Department of Public Health, announced he had found a faster, more efficient way to identify mercury in these skin creams. The method is called total reflection x-ray fluorescence, and instead of it taking days to process one sample, he and his team can now complete 20 to 30 samples in one day.
The main reason such a discovery is important is that skin lightening creams and other cosmetic products are not well regulated or tested. Therefore, consumers are at risk of exposure to dangerous ingredients like mercury in skin lightening creams. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has very little oversight over cosmetic safety, although it can ban highly toxic materials such as mercury, which it has done.
Products made in other countries, however, or unscrupulous manufacturers in the United States can still add mercury to these creams, which they do because the toxic chemical is effective at making the skin paler and freckles fade. At the same time, mercury is highly toxic, especially to the central nervous system, and can be absorbed through the skin via creams. In some cases, individuals are even injecting these creams to lighten their skin.
According to Vrdoljak, while the limit on mercury in products in the United States is 1 part per million (ppm), he and his team have found levels as high as 210,000 ppm in some products. Mercury exposure can cause kidney damage, headache, fatigue, hand tremors, nausea, excessive salivation, inflammation of the tongue and gums, muscle weakness, depression, and suppressed cognitive functioning.
Anyone who uses skin lightening creams and who experiences any of these symptoms should ask their doctor to run a urine test for the presence of mercury. Even if no symptoms occur, it may be wise to consider other skin lightening options, such as lemon juice, or have your product tested.
In an earlier study of skin lightening cream and mercury that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, investigators evaluated 549 skin lightening products made in 32 different countries. They were looking for products that had mercury levels greater than 200 ppm.
They discovered that:
- 45 percent of the products had mercury levels greater than 10,000 ppm
- 3.3 percent of the products in the US had mercury levels greater than 1,000 ppm
- 6 percent of the products overall had levels greater than 1,000 ppm
Now there is a method that can quickly and accurately test skin lightening creams for mercury content. If you are concerned about a product you are using, talk to your dermatologist about whether it is possible to have your skin lightening cream tested.
If you use any type of skin lightening cream, regardless of where you purchased it, there is the possibility it contains mercury. The presence of any of the symptoms mentioned is a clear sign you should see your doctor as soon as possible for screening.
American Chemical Society
Environmental Working Group
Maneli MH et al. Combinations of potent topical steroids, mercury and hydroquinone are common in internationally manufactured skin-lightening products: a spectroscopic study. Clinical and Experimental Dermatology 2016 Mar; 41(2): 196-201