Skin cream with mercury can be damaging

Many of us use skin cream to help our skin.  But the Food and Drug Administration is reminding us that if those products contain mercury they can hurt, rather than help.

Many of these products are advertised as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes, and wrinkles. Adolescents may use these products as acne treatments.  They’re usually manufactured abroad and sold illegally in the United States, either in small stores or via the internet.

The FDA says you should check the label of skin creams, soaps and lotions.  Look for the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury.” If you see them, the product contains mercury and you don’t want to touch it.

Mercury is dangerous

Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences, and not just for you. “Your family might breathe mercury vapors released from these products. Your children might touch washcloths or towels that are contaminated with mercury. It could be as simple as touching someone’s cheek or face,” says Arthur Simone, M.D., a senior medical advisor at FDA. In the past few years, FDA says it’s discovered numerous products that contain mercury, and there have been cases in which people exposed to such products have had mercury poisoning or elevated levels of mercury in their bodies.

Skin care products with mercury break the law

It’s illegal to have mercury in cosmetics or drugs sold in the US, except in very special situations.  “Even though these products are often promoted as cosmetics, they also may be unapproved new drugs under the law,” says Linda Katz, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

The FDA cautions not to assume that it’s okay if no ingredients are listed on the label, or if there’s no label at all. Federal law requires that ingredients be listed on the label of any cosmetic or nonprescription drug.  If you can’t see the ingredients, written in English, don’t buy it.  If you’ve already used it, the FDA says you should thoroughly wash your hands and other parts of your body that have come in contact with the product.  Then, contact your doctor for advice.  You can also contact a Poison Control center at 1-800-222-1222, 24/7.

Mercury is considered a hazardous material.  Before throwing out a product that may contain mercury, seal it in a plastic bag or leak-proof container. Check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for disposal instructions.

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About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at FairfaxNews. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years.  This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns.  He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C. He has won two Ohio State Awards for his reporting and producing and he led coverage that won an Edward R. Murrow Award.