FDA Warns About Anti-Aging Skin Products That Contain Mercury

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a Consumer Health Information report that details links between mercury poisonings and various anti-aging skin products.

If anyone has a skin product that lists “mercurous chloride”, “calomel”, “mercuric”, “mercurio”, or “mercury” anywhere on the label, they are urged to stop using the product immediately. If a skin product does not have a label that lists the ingredients, people should also stop using it at once.

According to the report, the products in question are usually sold as skin-lightening treatments or as freckle or wrinkle remedies. The mercury is sometimes used as a preservative or as an active ingredient, harkening back to the Solomon’s Water of yore.

Regardless of why it is used, the mercury-containing products are typically manufactured outside the country and sold illegally within the U.S., often in stores that cater to Latino, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern communities.

These anti-aging treatments tend to be promoted through social media and sold through apps rather than store shelves. The FDA has been investigating the presence of mercury-containing cosmetics alongside state officials for several years now and believes there is enough evidence to tie such products to known instances of mercury poisoning.

Mercury is toxic to humans in cases of high or prolonged exposure. Symptoms of mercury poisoning included irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and a numbness/tingling in the hands, feet, and around the mouth. Pregnant women, infants, and children face the biggest risk from mercury poisoning since it can also cause developmental delays.

One of the more pernicious aspects to mercury is that exposure does not need to be direct. Breathing in vapor released from mercury-containing products can cause exposure, as can touching washcloths or even the skin where a mercury-containing product has been used. It can also be transmitted through breast milk.

Anyone who finds that they have an anti-aging skin product that contains mercury is urged to thoroughly wash their hands and any part of the body that has come into contact with the product. People are asked to seal any skin products in a plastic bag or other leak-proof container before disposing of it in order to prevent environmental damage and to check with local waste agencies for specific instructions.

“Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products,” FDA web site, July, 2016; http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/UCM294876.pdf, last accessed August 4, 2016.