There’s lead in lipstick — and there’s also mercury in skin-lightening creams. The Food and Drug Administration has recently issued a warning about mercury in beauty products — skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, or lotions — that (so the products claim) will lighten your skin. These products are manufactured overseas in places from China to Lebanon and marketed as anti-aging treatments to remove age spots and freckles; teenagers also use them as acne treatments.
The products are brought, and sold, illegally into the US, in Latino, Asian, African or Middle Eastern neighborhoods and online, notes the FDA. Gary Coody, national health fraud coordinator in the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, notes that many of these “cosmetics” — which really ought to be classified as unapproved new drugs under US law — says that they come into the country “through channels we can’t easily track, such as international mail and personal baggage.”
The products containing mercury have been found in seven states. Testing by state health departments in Minnesota, Texas and elsewhere has revealed mercury levels as high as up to 131,000 times the allowable level in one face cream, say Texas health officials. A teenager in southern Texas who used a mercury-containing skin cream was recently hospitalized as a result. The California Department of Health reports that a 39-year old woman from Northern California was recently found to have more than 100 times the average amount of mercury in her urine, as well as symptoms of mercury poisoning. For the past three years, she and her husband had used a face cream that a relative had brought from Mexico; the FDA says that even family members including a four-year-old child who did not use the cream were found to have elevated levels of mercury in their bodies.
As NPR says, a number of states have seen an increase in mercury poisoning lately from the products. Coody notes that “products usually show up in communities with a strong cultural association between beauty and light-colored skin.” Such a belief has long existed in cultures around the world according to a 2009 NPR report and is “fraught with race- and class-based prejudices.”
Mercury is “virtually absent” from cosmetics made in the US. If you see “mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric, or mercurio” on the label of a product, it contains a mercury compound. Getting mercury poisoning from “cosmetics” — and being at risk of exposing others to mercury — is simply too high a price to pay for beauty.
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