FDA Investigating Skin Lightening Creams

We’ve long been following the health perils involved with the use of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/toxic_substances">skin lightening creams. Now, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning on determining if the creams contain dangerous mercury levels.

A Tribune investigation revealed high levels of mercury in some creams, which prompted the agency to alert FDA district offices regarding the potentially dangerous products and that enforcement action could be called for. “We didn’t know there was that kind of a risk, and we believe now there is a level of risk,” FDA spokesman Ira Allen said, quoted the Tribune. “We are going to follow up,” Allen added. Allen said the probe could include sample testing and facility inspections, but could not provide further details, said the Tribune.

Last week, the Tribune reported that it sent 50 skin lightening creams and creams claiming to fade age spots for testing at a certified lab, with most of the products purchased in the Chicago area. Six of the creams tested exceed legal mercury levels, with five containing enough mercury to cause kidney damage over time, said the Tribune, citing a medical report. Mercury, a toxic heavy metal that blocks melanin production, is banned in skin-bleaching or -lightening creams, explained the Tribune. Melanin gives skin its pigmentation and mercury can be quickly absorbed by the skin, leading to dangerous health problems to the kidneys and neurological system, the Tribune added.

We previously wrote that some legitimately prescribed and counterfeit skin-lightening creams contain the powerful steroid clobetasol propionate. Clobetasol propionate is the most potent topical steroid used in dermatology, and there are no indications for using it on the face; however, it can be found in prescription and over-the-counter creams. Complications from using clobetasol propionate over the long-term can include hypertension, elevated blood sugar, and suppression of the body’s natural steroids.

Another ingredient found in many skin lightening creams is hydroquinone, which, at strengths of four percent is prescribed for short-term use to lighten skin blemishes. Bootleg versions are available that have as much as five percent. The misuse of hydroquinone can actually discolor the skin, leading to a blue-black darkening. The use of hydroquinone is banned in England and France, but only restricted in the U.S.

Skin bleaching—using chemical or natural products to lighten skin color—is common in the U.S. and other countries and psychologists say consumer demand can be traced to the belief that lighter-skinned or white people are more successful, intelligent, and sexually desirable.

The Tribune said its tests were only among a small few conducted to determine the presence of the toxic metal in skin creams, noting that the FDA has not done much of this type of testing.

The Tribune’s investigation that turned up six creams with high levels of mercury also found that the creams were made in Lebanon, China, India, Pakistan, and Taiwan. Of note, four of the makers that the Tribune contacted confirmed that the products sold under their brand could be counterfeit.

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