New Study Says, Skin Lightening, Anti‑Ageing Creams Found to Contain ‘Dangerous’ Levels of Mercury

Mercury is used in cosmetic creams as a skin whitening agent because of its property to block the production of melanin. But recent studies show that products sold on online platforms have an illegal amount of mercury in them.

Studies found that the skincare products sold online have a surprising and dangerous amount of Mercury in them. The products sold on platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba (A Chinese e-commerce platform) is plagued with one serious problem that is lack of regulation. The result is that any product can be sold on these platforms and the skincare products sold on these platforms are not safe at all.

Mercury is used in cosmetic creams as a skin whitening agent because of its property to block the production of melanin (which gives colour to the skin). Its use has been noted in removing spots, freckles, even wrinkles in some cases. But it’s a heavy metal; mercury’s use is restricted to certain safe levels in some countries (like the U.S.) and completely banned in others.

In this analysis, the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) looked at some 271 products bought across a period of 13 months in 17 countries. Nearly half of them were contaminated with mercury above 1 part per million (ppm) — the allowed limit in most countries. In some products sold across these 40 retailers, the levels detected soared to 65,000 ppm. “We’re not finding 1ppm – we’re finding products that are hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of times above [1ppm]. These levels are astronomical,” said Michael Bender, an international coordinator with the Mercury Policy Project.

When applied topically, mercury is associated with the development of skin irritation, rashes, and discolouration, says Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “If it’s absorbed, [it] can even cause mercury poisoning with toxicity to the kidneys and nervous system.”

Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the primary adverse effect of mercury in skin-care products is kidney damage. And, in addition to what Zeichner noted, it can also cause anxiety, depression, and even psychosis. Long-term use of cosmetics that contain mercury can cause damage to the eyes, lungs, digestive, nervous and immune systems. So yeah, it can be pretty toxic stuff.

One of the most recent global agreements called the Minamata Convention on Mercury, designed to protect human health and the environment, required its 100 signatories to ban the manufacture, import, or export of cosmetics with more than 1ppm of mercury. But despite such regulations in place, products continue to carry mercury illegally and remain in circulation across e-commerce websites like Amazon, Alibaba, eBay.

So, in case you are buying skincare products online, please buy from trusted brands. The alternatives can be harmful to your skin and your health. Do make sure of the ingredients that are in your products.

Another reason that mercury can be hard to spot in your cosmetics is probably because it goes by many names: Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, quicksilver, cinnabaris, or hydrargyri oxydum rubrum, according to the WHO. Products with very high levels of mercury could also appear grey as mercury’s colour is grey. So avoid products with these labels and colour. 

-Staff Reporter



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