Mercury in Cosmetics

By Kim Smiley

The toxic metal mercury has been found in cosmetics in at least 7 states in the US. Some products contain hundreds or thousands of times the allowable level.  Even small amounts of mercury are a concern as it accumulates in the body.

The use of products containing mercury can result in risk of illness or even death due to mercury poisoning.  Mercury accumulates in the body, increasing the risk with each application.  Additionally, family members can also be exposed, even if they aren’t using the product.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow mercury in cosmetics, whether manufactured in or imported into the US.  These mercury containing products are generally manufactured outside the US and are brought in by non-regulated channels, such as personal mail or luggage.   The FDA is constantly adding products found to contain mercury to the seizure list.  If found, the products are taken and the importers or sellers can face legal action.

Mercury is added to cosmetic products in an attempt to aid in skin lightening, anti-aging or blemish control.  However, it seems unlikely that any effectiveness the product may have is worth the possible side effects of mercury poisoning, which include damage to the kidneys and nervous system, tremors, depression, memory problems, and even death.  It can also interfere with the development of the brain in the unborn and very young.  Because mercury is sometimes listed under different names on the ingredient list (or imported products contain no ingredient list or the ingredient list is in a different language), it’s likely that users of these products are unaware they contain mercury.

The FDA recommends that you check the labels of any products advertised as face-lightening, anti-aging or blemish treatments.  If the label contains mercury, mercurous chloride, calomel, mercuric or mercurio, stop use immediately.  Additionally, if there is no ingredient label or the label is not in English, stop use immediately.  Store in a sealed bag and contact Poison Control or your healthcare provider.

We can investigate the issue of mercury in cosmetics in a Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, in order to show the cause-and-effect relationships that lead to the potential for health effects.  To view the Outline and Cause Map, please click “Download PDF” above.  Or click here to read more.