In my growing up years, I remember being mesmerized by the silver blob of mercury rising and falling with increasing and decreasing temperatures in a thermometer. But, even as a child, I knew that the mercury in the thermometer was not good for you. Imagine my horror when I discovered that today mercury is not just being used in thermometers but in skin care products!
What is mercury and where can we find it?
“Mercury: a silvery-white poisonous metallic element, liquid at room temperature is also considered a contaminant.” This chemical has a hazard score of 10 and can be found in a number of skin care formulations. The products where mercury can generally be found are:
- Skin whitening products
- Baby shampoo
- Nail treatments
While every woman loves her cosmetics, using mercury is a part of a deal that nobody bargained for. Some of the health concerns linked with mercury are:
- Allergic reactions
- Developmental delays in children
- Possibly carcinogenic
- Nervous system toxicant
- Respiratory toxicant
- Organ toxicant
The most common skin care product that contains mercury is skin lightening creams. Mercury is a relatively cheaper ingredient that aids in skin lightening and checks hyper-pigmentation by inhibiting the production of melanin. Mercury is commonly used in such creams as it is a far more affordable alternative to other melanin inhibitors that are naturally occurring and safer such as the concentrated extract of licorice. A skin lightening cream containing mercury gives almost instant results but the constant exposure to mercury doesn’t yield any beneficial results.
Some of the problems faced by people using skin care products which contain mercury include:
- Blotchy and uneven skin tone
- Skin that gets sun burnt easily
- Skin peeling
- Thickened skin and enlarged pores
- Redness, itchiness, dark patches or light pink patches
- Premature aging and wrinkles
Apart from these problems, mercury can also cause skin cancer, lead to liver and kidney failure and damage the nervous system. Research has also revealed that pregnant women exposed to mercury through creams and other beauty products were at risk of giving birth to babies with low birth weight, possible brain damage and other deformations because of the high toxicity of mercury.
Most countries, such as UK and Malaysia, have banned the use of mercury in cosmetics and skin care products. In other countries, such as US, products containing less than 2% of mercury can be sold over the counter.
The next time you are out shopping for your jar of moisturizing cream or other cosmetics, don’t forget to tick off mercury from the list of ingredients. It’s time to wake up as a consumer and learn to read product labels to ensure they are mercury free!
Check your product labels. Do you own any products that contain mercury? Tell us!