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FDA Issues Warning About Skin Creams Containing Mercury

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning about skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, or lotions that might contain mercury. While products containing mercury are prohibited in the United States, they are turning up in growing numbers in several U.S. states, including California.

In fact, California health officials sent out a similar medical alert in February after tracing the mercury poisoning of a 39-year-old Alameda County woman to an illegal skin-lightening cream smuggled in from Mexico.

The products are marketed as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles, according to the FDA. However, the mercury in these products poses a serious health risk. Mercury can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.

“You don’t have to use the product yourself to be affected, says FDA toxicologist Mike Bolger, Ph.D. “People—particularly children—can get mercury in their bodies from breathing in mercury vapors if a member of the household uses a skin cream containing mercury.” Infants and small children can ingest mercury if they touch their parents who have used these products, get cream on their hands and then put their hands and fingers into their mouth, which they are prone to do, adds Bolger.

To protect yourself, the FDA offers the following advice:

How to Protect Yourself

  • Check the label of any skin lightening, anti-aging or other skin product you use. If you see the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury,” stop using the product immediately.
  • If there is no label or no ingredients are listed, do not use the product. Federal law requires that ingredients be listed on the label of any cosmetic or drug.
  • Don’t use products labeled in languages other than English unless English labeling is also provided.
  • If you suspect you have been using a product with mercury, stop using it immediately. Thoroughly wash your hands and any other parts of your body that have come in contact with the product. Contact your health care professional or a medical care clinic for advice.
  • If you have questions, call your health care professional or the Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222; it is open 24 hours a day.
  • Before throwing out a product that may contain mercury, seal it in a plastic bag or leak-proof container. Check with your local environmental, health or solid waste agency for disposal instructions. Some communities have special collections or other options for disposing of household hazardous waste.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured by a dangerous or defective product, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego product liability attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.