Consumers are being warned not to use certain types of skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps or lotions because they contain mercury. Exposure to mercury can cause serious health consequences including damage to the kidneys and nervous system.
The products in question are marketed as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles. Adolescents also may use these products as acne treatments. Products with this toxic metal have been found in at least seven states.
The products are manufactured abroad and sold illegally in the United States – often in shops in Latino, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern neighborhoods and online. Consumers may have also bought them in another country and brought them back to the U.S. for personal use.
Exposure to mercury can cause symptoms such as irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression or numbness and tingling in the hands, feet or around the mouth. Mercury can also damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.
Exposure can occur in people even if they aren’t using the product. People – especially children – can get mercury in their bodies from breathing in mercury vapors if a member of the household uses a skin cream containing mercury. Infants and small children can ingest mercury if they touch their parents who have used these products, get cream on their hands and then put their hands and fingers into their mouth, which they are prone to do.
One way to determine if the product you are using contains mercury is to check the label. If it has the word merculrous chloride, calomel, mercuri, mercurio, or mercury, stop using it immediately. If there is no label or the ingredients aren’t listed, do not use the product. If you suspect you have been using a product that contains mercury, stop using it immediately. Thoroughly wash your hands and any part of your body that has come in contact with the product. Then contact your health care professional or medical clinic for advice.
Before throwing away the 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. Some communities have special collections or other options for disposing of household hazardous waste.
In the past few years the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state officials have turned up more than 35 products that contain unacceptable levels of mercury.