Skin lightening, already a troubling cosmetic trend, can also be hazardous to your health depending on the product being used
The Food and Drug Administration said Friday it will investigate skin-lightening creams for dangerous amounts of mercury.
Responding to a Tribune investigation that found high levels of the toxic metal in some creams, the FDA said it has alerted its district offices about potentially hazardous products and will take enforcement action if necessary.
“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. “We are going to follow up.”
The Tribune reported Wednesday that the newspaper had sent 50 creams used to lighten skin and fade age spots to a certified lab for testing, most of them bought in Chicago stores. Six were found to contain amounts of mercury banned by federal law. Of those, five had more than 6,000 parts per million of mercury — enough to potentially cause kidney damage over time, according to a medical expert.
The market for skin lighteners is booming in the U.S. and abroad. Many consumers use the creams to diminish age spots and freckles or to even out skin tone. Others want to lighten their entire face or bodies. Some people of Asian, Hispanic and African heritage use the creams because lighter skin can be considered a status symbol in their cultures.
Mercury is banned in skin-bleaching or lightening creams. The metal blocks production of melanin, which gives skin its pigmentation. But mercury can be rapidly absorbed through the skin and cause severe health effects, including neurological and kidney damage.