Although the case of a woman who is in a coma after using a cream with mercury is extreme, Millions of women (and a growing number of men) are exposed to contact with mercury worldwide. The use of creams and soaps to lighten the skin is widespread in many parts of the planet. The manufacturers of these products are mainly targeted by Asian, African and Latin communities.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of cosmetics with more than 1 ppm (or parts per million) of mercury in 1973, and even created an import alert, which allows officials to prevent the passage of products at the borders.

Nonetheless, Mercury products continue in the market and are easily accessible online. Last winter, a group of 51 environmental and public health associations asked Amazon and eBay to remove skin care products with dangerous amounts of mercury from their networks. These products in some cases contained up to 30,000 parts per million (or ppm) of mercury, that is 30,000 times the legal limit of 1ppm established by the FDA.

Other research suggests that mercury-containing skin creams are available and They are commonly used in Mexico (and other places) and their contents are barely controlled.

Block melanin with mercury

In theory, easy access should end as there is an international agreement to control mercury poisoning and its contamination, signed by 128 countries, which comes into force next year, the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Another issue is how this prohibition is implemented.

Manufacturers use mercury in creams to lighten the skin because blocks the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens it. It is not the only use. Mercury cosmetics are often advertised as treatments that remove moles and even as an acne treatment for teenagers.

Environmental defense groups, such as EcoWaste, denounce that this element is a frequent ingredient in a fast growing market such as creams to lighten skin. The market, according to Bloomberg, moves about 20,000 million dollars annually, a figure that covers both real and fake products and creams that may contain mercury.

For free medical advice in Spanish, you can call the California Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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