Groups Call On Amazon and eBay to Stop Selling Illegal Mercury-Containing Cosmetics - BRIGID Magazine

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Groups Call On Amazon and eBay to Stop Selling Illegal Mercury-Containing Cosmetics

Many people with freckles use lightening products
that could be causing serious health problems.
 Image: Gabriel Silvério
People use skin lightening products — like bleaching creams, whiteners, fading creams, and skin brightening lotions — as a way to reduce the appearance of freckles, age spots, hormonal discolourations, acne scars, or other "imperfections."

These products are also used by individuals who wish to lighten the overall colour of their skin. Indeed, marketers of skin lightening products often target African, Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern consumers.

The active ingredient in lightening products is mercury, a toxic component that can lead to serious and long-term health consequences. According to WebMD, "the use of mercury as an ingredient in skin lighteners is banned in the U.S. However, some skin lighteners produced outside the U.S. may still contain mercury."

Consumers commonly purchase their lightening products online from Amazon, eBay, and similar companies. Now, several groups are acting to get mercury-containing beauty products pulled from online "shelves."

It isn't always easy to tell if a product contains mercury, since it can masquerade under different names, such as "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric," and "mercurio". The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises consumers to stop using any product containing mercury immediately. They also state that the product should be sealed in a leak-proof container and taken to a proper disposal facility. "Check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for disposal instructions," their website states.

The Mercury Policy Project and 50 NGOs from around the world recently called on Amazon and eBay to stop selling and marketing illegal mercury-containing cosmetics. The groups found through testing that 19 skin lightening products sold by the companies contain illegal levels of mercury. The mercury levels in most of the products were thousands of times higher than the legal limit of one part per million (established by the United States and several other governments).

"Internet moguls must stop breaking the law and exposing NYC residents and others with their toxic trade in illegal cosmetics," said Michael Bender, Director of the Mercury Policy Project. "At the same time, the FDA must enforce — no matter how big, no one is above the law."

Some are using mercury-containing skin products daily without knowing it.
Image: Karolina Mis
Cosmetics that contain mercury cause skin damage and have been known to cause long-term injury to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and immune system. When used during pregnancy, mercury can pass to the unborn child, leading to memory, learning, and behavioural problems later on.

"We know that fetuses are far more sensitive to mercury than adults, and you can get very severe injury to the fetus without the mother showing any symptoms at all," said Jeffrey Brent, a distinguished clinical professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. Babies exposed to mercury in the womb can be born with birth defects, including physical deformities, a form of cerebral palsy, and other brain disorders.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning in adults include:

  • Mood swings, irritability, and other mood or emotional changes
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Numbness, tremors, or twitching
  • Weakness and muscle atrophy
  • Decreased cognitive functions, like memory loss and reduced concentration
  • High exposure levels of mercury can lead to kidney and/or respiratory failure, and can be fatal

Though fears of mercury poisoning (aka mercury toxicity) are commonly dismissed due to the problem's frequent appearance in the realm of pseudoscience, mercury poisoning is a real phenomenon — with science to back it up.

According to Robin A. Bernhoft in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, "mercury passes easily through the blood brain barrier and through the placenta, where it lodges in the fetal brain." In addition to the brain, "metallic mercury is also deposited in the thyroid, breast, myocardium, muscles, adrenals, liver, kidneys, skin, sweat glands, pancreas, enterocytes, lungs, salivary glands, testes, and prostate and may be associated with dysfunction of those organs."

While most mercury exposure results from fish consumption or dental amalgam, there are several other sources of mercury toxicity, including cosmetics and workplace contamination (e.g. fluorescent lamps, older pesticides and fungicides).

The good news is that most former sources of mercury — such as old medical equipment and materials used in construction and agriculture — have been disposed or removed from the market. So while the issue is not as big of a problem as it used to be, we still have some work to do.

by Kristen Hovet

If you found this content useful please consider becoming a patron of BRIGID Magazine.

Become a Patron!