Is mercury poisoning too high a price to pay for your favorite anti-wrinkle face cream? The FDA has issued a warning against face creams and other products that may contain mercury, a dangerous element with a long history of cosmetic use.
Mercury and cosmetics, back then
Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used mercury, a naturally occurring element, in cosmetic products. Sure, sometimes the cosmetics deformed faces — but beauty is pain. In Eastern medicine, mercury once had a reputation as prolonging life and promoting health. This is ironic because mercury causes dangerous poisoning that may in turn cause liver failure and brain death, among other unpleasant symptoms. The expression “mad as a hatter” has roots in mercury poisoning. Hatmakers, among others, used the element in their craft — and according to popular folklore, it drove them insane.
Mercury and cosmetics today
Today, mercury is still widely used to make mascara, though it’s banned in all cosmetics in Minnesota and some other US states. Recently, the FDA has issued a warning that mercury can be found in some anti-wrinkle face cream formulas, soaps and lotions that have been illegally manufactured.
Mercury is most commonly added to skin lightener and anti-wrinkle treatments that remove blemishes, age spots, freckles and/or wrinkles. These products are manufactured and sold illegally in the United States, though the average consumer may not always know when they’re purchasing such a product.
Keep yourself safe by checking the labels on your cosmetics. Look for the words mercurous chloride, mercurio, mercury, mercuric or calomel. If you can’t find a label, or an ingredient list on the label, don’t use that anti-wrinkle face cream! According to United States law, any cosmetic must have a label containing a list of ingredients. If you have a product which doesn’t, it’s illegal and therefore suspect. If the product is labeled, but not in English, don’t use it unless English is also included on the label.
Dangerous products have been found in 7 different US states so far. Most commonly, these mercury products are found online and in shops found in African, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern neighborhoods. The FDA allows mercury in products sold in the US only under very strict regulation, guidelines these illegal products do not meet.
If you think you’ve been exposed to some dangerous mercury, consult with your physician. Mercury poisoning is a slow process. The element is absorbed and breathed into your body through regular exposure. Symptoms of mercury exposure include depression, tremors, vision and hearing problems and irritability. Even people who are close to you may be exposed to mercury poisoning if you’re wearing cosmetics that contain the element; this makes the cosmetics especially dangerous to children.
Contact your local health department to find a safe way to dispose of products that are suspected to contain mercury, and always be careful when purchasing anti-wrinkle face cream. Check your labels, and know what you’re putting on your face.
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