Skin Bleaching Creams Can Pose Mercury Poisoning Risk

The FDA warns that some creams made overseas may contain high levels of the potent toxin.

Posted: 03/12/2012 01:47 PM EDT

Just because local hair supply stores sell a product, that doesn't mean that it's safe.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently put out a report warning people about certain skin-bleaching creams, claiming that they can contain high levels of mercury. The regulatory agency also flagged acne medications, lotions and soaps that are made from countries outside the United States, including China and Lebanon.

Health departments from across the country have tested these “beauty” products and have found that some products had levels of mercury tens of thousands, or more, higher than the legal limit. What's even scarier is many of these products can be found in higher concentrations in African-American, Latino and Middle Eastern neighborhoods.
 
NPR's Health Blog reported that this problem has been on the FDA's radar for some time. Gary Coody, the FDA's national health fraud coordinator, said, "We just felt like it was a good time to get information out to consumers. They seem to be resurging in popularity."

That surge in popularity is tied to old and new cultural fascinations with the false belief that lighter skin is better and more attractive. But this obsession is harming younger and older women not just emotionally, but physically. There have been numerous reports from around the country about hospitalizations because of these products.

Mercury poisoning is a serious matter. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, symptoms of mercury poisoning include tremors; emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness); insomnia; neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching); headaches; disturbances in sensations; changes in nerve responses; and performance deficits on tests of cognitive function. At higher exposures, there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death. It can also cause neurological damage and developmental issues in unborn babies.

To protect yourself, the FDA suggests:


—Check the label of any skin lightening, anti-aging or other skin product you use. If you see the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio” or “mercury,” stop using the product immediately.


—If there is no label or no ingredients are listed, do not use the product. Federal law requires that ingredients be listed on the label of any cosmetic or drug.


—Don’t use products labeled in languages other than English unless English labeling is also provided.


—If you suspect you have been using a product with mercury, stop using it immediately. Thoroughly wash your hands and any other parts of your body that have come in contact with the product. Contact your health care professional or a medical care clinic for advice.


—If you have questions, call your health care professional or the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.


—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. Some communities have special collections or other options to dispose of household hazardous waste.

While the FDA is asking retailers to take these products off the shelves, that doesn't mean that they will. So buyer, beware.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.


(Photo:  Joseph Clark / BET)

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