Skin bleaching creams and skin lightening lotions are supposed to be good for your skin. But according to a recent story published in the Chicago Tribune newspaper, certain skin creams could cause a variety of problems for various organs, especially your kidneys.
The Tribune did an independent investigation of six skin bleaching products and found that they contained what the newspaper called “toxic” levels of mercury. The results of the investigation were published May 18, 2010.
The products are designed to be used for lightening freckles and age spots.
Mercury is dangerous because it can cause problems for several organs including the heart, lungs, and brain. Kidney damage is among the most prominent dangers.
High levels of mercury can enter the body after being spread on the skin. The level of danger varies according to body weight and a number of other factors. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers more than one gram of mercury per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to be excessive. Doses in excess of the maximum limit can trigger life-threatening disorders. Small doses can build up over time, creating long term ill-effects.
Mercury can cause blurred vision and trouble walking. It can shut down organs, and in extreme cases, be fatal. Mercury can be especially dangerous for the unborn babies of pregnant women, infants and toddlers.
Mercury has been illegal for use in skin creams and lotions since 1990 when it was banned by the Food and Drug Administration. The Tribune’s investigation revealed that products are readily available nonetheless. The FDA told the Tribune that it has less than 500 inspectors who can check imported products, making it possible for some products to avoid testing.
The Tribune sent 50 skin cream samples to an independent lab for testing. Six contained levels of mercury that exceeded legal limits in the U.S. Five had levels of 6,000 parts per million of mercury, which is high enough to cause kidney damage.
The products were imported to the U.S. from Lebanon, China, India, Pakistan and Taiwan and sold in U.S. grocery stores, beauty supply stores, salons, herbal medicine shops. Some were sold over the Internet.
One Chicago dermatologist, Dr. Jonith Breadon, said he was “shocked and speechless” that products with so much mercury in them are easy to get.
Retailers who had the products on their shelves promised to remove them. Two companies who were distributing the products say they will discontinue them.
Skin lighteners have become big sellers in the United States in recent years. Sales have been high among Asian, Hispanic and African-American ethnic groups. Sales are expected to exceed $75 million annually by 2015.
Aside from the six creams identified in the Tribune investigation, consumers have something of a challenge identifying dangerous products. Many stores sell dozens of brands.
The highest levels of mercury were found in a product called Stillman’s Skin Bleach Cream. Other products identified by the Tribune included Top-Gel MCA Extra Pearl Cream, Creme Diana CTR, Ling Ji Su, Lulanjina, and Shabright Clear and tri luma cream amazon Formula.