According to a report, health experts recommend beware of skin whitening creams after a Minnesota woman apparently developed peripheral vision loss that may be permanent – likely due to exposure to excessive levels of mercury in its beauty creams.
“Mercury poisoning from skin-lightening creams can be very serious because it causes nervous system damage that can be permanent,” said Dr. Eric Lavonas, toxicologist at Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety in Denver, Colorado, and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Fox News Digital.
“The best way to protect yourself is to stick to clearly labeled, FDA-approved creams and cosmetics,” he also said.
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By law, cosmetic product labels must list the countries where the products were made, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told Fox News Digital.
If a product is imported from outside the United States, the label information must be in English, the health department added.
“A list of ingredients must be present – although we know that mercury is almost never listed,” CDPH noted.
Why is mercury found in skin bleaching products?
Melanin is the natural skin pigment that gives color to our skin, hair and eyes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Mercury is often added to skin lightening creams to block melanin in the skin.
“It’s not safe to assume that just by reading the label a person can know the ingredients in products,” Amira Adawe, founder and executive director of the Beautywell Project in Minnesota, told Fox News Digital. .
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His company wants to end skin lightening practices and chemical exposures globally.
“I’ve been working on the issue of skin lightening and chemical exposures for twelve years, and I haven’t seen any creams that list the actual ingredients,” she added.
Mercury was not listed on the product label.
Her company tested these products to reveal high levels of mercury and hydroquinone, even though the mercury was not listed on the product label, she said.
What to know about the Minnesota case report
A Minnesota mother, originally from Somalia, was referred to the Minnesota Poison Control System after seeing multiple doctors and complained of nonspecific symptoms, which progressed to loss of her peripheral vision, according to a CNN report.
The report was shared by Dr. Erin Batdorff of the Minnesota Poison Control System, detailing the widespread symptoms experienced by the woman, also a mother – and how home visits conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) found high levels of mercury in various places in the woman’s home.
Fox News Digital has reached out to the parties for comment.
A team from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency evaluated the patient twice, about a year apart, according to the report.
During her first visit in 2021, the team discovered that she had skin whitening beauty creams from outside the United States, but no longer used them.
The mother’s urine tests revealed she had more than four times the allowable levels of mercury in her body.
The team found that the amount of mercury in two of these creams was more than 4,000 and 7,000 times higher than acceptable levels, but the mercury was not listed as an ingredient on the products.
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The mother’s urine tests revealed she had more than four times the allowable levels of mercury in her body. One of her children also had high levels of mercury in urine.
During a second visit this year, the agency found two new beauty products purchased in Minnesota, but one was not specifically labeled for skin whitening.
Since both were empty, the team tested unopened versions of the same product and found levels 11,000 and 18,000 times higher than the allowed level.
Repeated urine tests on the mother revealed mercury levels that were more than nine times the level considered normal.
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This team also found worrying levels of mercury in parts and features of the house, including the children’s bedrooms and the washing machine, which was contaminated from clothing.
One of her children also had high mercury levels, although these were much lower than the mother’s.
FDA has warned of cosmetics linked to mercury poisoning
“When browsing the beauty aisles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns you to avoid skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, and lotions that contain mercury,” the FDA noted on its website last year.
The Beautywell Project’s Adawe, however, said that in her view the FDA has not effectively regulated skin lightening products.
“It is not possible to guarantee that an imported cosmetic product intended to lighten the skin or eliminate blemishes or wrinkles is free of mercury. »
“For the past few years, our organization has done advocacy work in Congress” with Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., she added.
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“Through this collaboration, funding has been established through the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity to address the issue of skin lightening and cosmetic safety. »
She noted that these creams are available worldwide, including in the United States.
Notice to consumers
“It is not possible to guarantee that an imported cosmetic to lighten skin or remove blemishes or wrinkles is free of mercury,” the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told Fox News Digital.
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So how should consumers proceed?
The CDPH recommends avoiding the purchase of “imported products claiming to lighten the skin, [addressing] blemishes or wrinkle treatment. »
The agency warned against buying creams sold by individuals, creams sold at flea markets or swaps, or those sold via social media.
According to the FDA, signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning can range from irritability, tremors, memory problems, numbness in the hands, feet, or around the mouth, or changes in vision or ‘hearing.
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“When using these products, your family may breathe in mercury vapor or be exposed by using things like mercury-contaminated washcloths or towels,” according to the FDA’s website.
“Some people — including pregnant women, nursing babies, and young children — are especially vulnerable to mercury toxicity,” the FDA added.