Consumers should avoid skin lighteners, "anti-aging" creams, and other cosmetics that may contain toxic levels of mercury, the FDA advised in an alert issued recently. Products that list "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric," "mercurio," or "mercury" among their ingredients -- or that don't list ingredients in English, or at all -- should not be used, the FDA warned.
The alert came after the Minnesota Department of Health tested 27 products marketed as skin lighteners, finding that 11 exceeded the FDA's allowable limit of 1 ppm of mercury compounds. Several of these contained mercury at concentrations thousands of times higher -- one, an imported Asian product called "Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream," tested at 33,000 ppm, or 3.3% mercury.
Individuals who have already purchased products that might contain mercury should throw them away immediately, the FDA urged. The agency said it had received several reports of people who were treated for mercury poisoning after using skin-care products.
Specific products identified by the FDA and the Minnesota health department as containing excessive mercury included creams and soaps with brand names such as Diana, Fasco, and Stillman's. Others had labels that were only in Chinese or Arabic scripts.
All the offending products had been imported, but the FDA emphasized that the warning applied to cosmetics originating from anywhere.
The agency also noted that persons using such products are not the only ones affected. Family members may inhale mercury vapors emanating from users' skin. Also, young children may ingest mercury after touching a user's skin and then putting their fingers in their mouths.