5 Jun 2012
Kounteya Sinha TNN
New Delhi: Can’t get enough of your new body lotion that makes your skin so much softer? Unfortunately, applying them could be causing your body serious damages. The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning against skin lightening soaps, creams and cosmetics like eye makeup, cleansing products and mascara, saying they could be containing mercury.
The warning is serious, especially for Indians, as WHO said 61% of the dermatological market here consists of skin lightening products. WHO said the serious adverse effects of inorganic mercury, which is a common ingredient found in skin lightening soaps and creams, includes kidney damage, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression or psychosis and also peripheral neuropathy.
The global health watchdog pointed out that mercury in soaps and creams is eventually discharged into wastewater. The mercury, then, enters environment, where it becomes methylated, and enters the food chain as highly toxic methylmercury in fish. Pregnant women who consume fish containing methylmercury transfer the mercury to their fetuses that can later result in neurological deficits in children.
WHO said skin lightening soaps and creams are commonly used in certain African and Asian nations and darkskinned populations in Europe and North America. Mercury salts inhibit the formation of melanin, resulting in a lighter skin tone.
“Some manufacturers are no longer using mercury as a preservative in mascara and eye makeup cleansing products as a result of consumer pressure. However, most jurisdictions still allow the sale of makeup products containing mercury compounds. The soaps contain approximately 1%–3% mercury iodide, and the creams are composed of 1%–10% mercury ammonium,” WHO said.
It is imperative to check for mercury content on the packaging of the soaps, creams or other cosmetics before getting hooked to them.
WHO added, “The amount or concentration of mercury in a product may be labelled on the packaging or in the ingredient list. Names to look for include mercury, Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, ammoniated mercury, amide chloride of mercury, quicksilver, cinnabaris, hydrargyri oxydum rubrum (mercury oxide), mercury iodide. Directions to avoid contact with silver, gold, rubber, aluminum and jewellery may also indicate the presence of mercury. However, companies selling products that contain mercury, do not always list it as an ingredient.”
The United States Food and Drug Administration allows mercury compounds in eye area cosmetics at concentrations at or below 65 mg/kg expressed as mercury (approximately 100 mg/kg expressed as phenylmercuric acetate or nitrate). All other cosmetics must contain mercury at a concentration less than 1 mg/kg.
“India too is bringing in laws to regulate the cosmetic industry. We will regulate mercury use in soaps, creams and cosmetics,” a health ministry official said.
The WHO has issued a warning against skin lightening soaps, creams and cosmetics like eye makeup saying they could be containing mercury which causes kidney damage, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression and also peripheral neuropathy