Women in at least seven states may have been unwittingly slathering poison on their faces by using mercury-tainted cosmetics, the Food and Drug Administration warned today.
The products, usually used for lightening skin, are sold as soaps, skin creams, and lotions. In all, the FDA has identified 35 products, most of them manufactured overseas, and most sold in Latino, Middle Eastern, African-American, and Asian neighborhoods.
Mercury poisoning can cause illness and even death, and while the amounts of mercury in the cosmetics is typically low, mercury, like lead and some other poisons, accumulates in the body. Mercury is also readily absorbable through skin. It damages the nervous system and other organs such as kidneys. Consumers could be giving themselves frequent small doses of poison that will eventually lead to symptoms like irritability, tremors, depression, memory problems and changes in hearing and vision.
The concern isn't just for the user, either. "Mercury can vaporize and people breathe it in," explained FDA spokesperson Siobhan DeLancey. "That makes it particularly dangerous for infants and small children. They are likely to be picked up and held close to the face. Also, they are so young, and small, and the mercury will accumulate over a lifetime."
Not all products containing mercury will use the word "mercury" on the labels. According to the FDA, other names, like "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric" and "mercurio" may be listed. Some brand names include Crème Diana, Lulanjina, Fasco and Jiao Li.
For more see the FDA's web page DeLancey warned that not every product in a company's line of cosmetics necessarily contains mercury and that "just because your product is not listed, doesn't mean that it's safe."
People should stop using mercury-tainted products immediately, wash hands and any other body parts that have come into contact with the product, and seal the remaining material in a plastic bag or other leak-proof container. Contact your local environmental health agency for disposal instructions.
If you've been using a tainted product, and you or anyone you've come into contact with is showing symptoms of mercury poisoning, call your physicians or the Poison Center at 800-222-1222.