The Continued Dangers of Skin Lightening Creams

Every week, there are reports in the news of dangerous medications or medical products on the market. One recent report captured my attention. It was a report of a skin lightening cream that had poisoned a woman in California and another in Virginia. These skin lightening creams were not creams that were purchased in a drugstore or at a large national beauty supply chain. Rather, the products were purchased at small neighborhood beauty stores, flea markets or at swap meets in the United States. Some of the products where purchased directly in Mexico and brought to the United States. The jars that held the creams were often unmarked and were made of white plastic.

I was concerned with the reports because many of my of patients of African, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern decent experience skin problems that are treated with skin lightening products. The problems that they experience range from dark spots, discolorations, uneven skin tone, sunspots, and freckles. Some of my patients simply want to lighten the overall color or their skin. These patients live in the very communities in which the dangerous creams have been sold.

Mercury is the very dangerous chemical that medical officials found in the skin lightening creams that sickened the women. It's really shocking that in 2012, in the United States, that mercury containing creams have been found. The dangers of mercury are several. It can damage the kidneys and wreak havoc on the nervous system. To avoid unknowingly using harmful skin care products, never use unmarked products, including unmarked products that are given to you by friends, family or acquaintances or purchased at flea markets, swap meets or small unofficial beauty stores. If the product does not have an ingredient list, don't use it. If you have used any products that fit this description, it is important to know the signs of mercury toxicity.

Symptoms of mercury toxicity include:

  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Memory loss
  • Numbness
  • Tingling in the hands, feet or around the lips
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Weight loss

If you have experienced any of these symptoms after using an unmarked cream, see your doctor right away.

There are two other scary things that you should know about the mercury poisoning reports. Some adults and children who lived in the households of the individuals who used the cream were found to also have mercury toxicity. One was an eight month old child. The authorities think that the baby was exposed to the mercury when held in its mother's arms (she had applied the cream to her arms earlier). Finally, mercury can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin then excreted in urine, sweat and breast milk. It can stay in the body for one to two months.