FDA Says to Beware of Skin Care Products Containing Mercury

In a recently updated statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to beware of skin care products containing mercury. Exposure to mercury is hazardous, and can damage the brain, lungs and kidneys. It is especially harmful to pregnant women as well as infants and young children, whose brains are still developing. The FDA warning extends to all cosmetics that potentially contain mercury, including lotions soaps and other beauty products.

Beauty products containing mercury are usually marketed as “skin-lightening” or “anti-aging” products. They promise to remove freckles, age spots and wrinkles. Some products may also be geared towards teens, claiming to remove blemishes and acne.

The FDA urges consumers to check all skin care product labels and immediately stop using products that contain any of the following ingredients:

  • Mercurous chloride
  • Calomel
  • Mercuric
  • Mercurio
  • Mercury

If a product lacks an ingredient list or a product label, that does not necessary mean that it is mercury-free or safe to use. Federal law mandates that all cosmetic and non-prescription drug products contain a label that lists its ingredients. If a product does not comply with this, it is safer to avoid it.

According to Jason Humbert of the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, most mercury-containing products are manufactured abroad. In the US, they are typically sold in Asian, Latino, African and Middle Eastern communities, he says. “Because these products are often found in local retail outlets or brought into the U.S. for personal use, it is difficult for the FDA to identify all products potentially containing mercury,” said FDA press officer Lauren to Patch. “That’s why we published this [statement] to advise consumers of potential red flags when deciding to purchase or use similar products.”

Additionally, senior medical FDA adviser Arthur Simone warns that mercury-containing cosmetics pose a risk to people near the products, not just the person using them. “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,” he said, according to Patch.

Acute mercury poisoning may lead to fever, fatigue and respiratory issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eventually it can lead to neurological, skin and kidney impairment. Patients may experience memory loss, irritability, depression, hypertension, tremors, oral inflammation, prickling, numbness, flushing, burning, discoloration and skin peeling.

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