Skin Lightening

November 10, 2020

Skin Lightening Products May Contain Dangerous Levels of Mercury

Skin-lightening products containing mercury are illegal in the US. But they are available, and dangerous. A recent report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) highlighted the alarming trend of illegal skin lighteners from other countries that are being sold and used in the United States.

A 47-year-old Mexican American woman living in California presented with dysesthesias (abnormal sensations such as burning, electric shock, or a general tightening around the body) and weakness in her arms. Over the next 2 weeks, she began experiencing dysarthria, blurry vision, and gait unsteadiness. She was hospitalized and developed agitated delirium. Two weeks after admission, screening blood and urine tests showed mercury concentrations exceeding the upper limit of quantification. It was discovered the woman had been applying, twice per day for seven years, a skin-lightening cream from Mexico. An analysis showed the cream contained 12,000 parts per million (ppm) of mercury. (The maximum allowable limit for mercury in cosmetic products, per FDA regulations is 1 ppm.) Despite treatment, the woman’s condition deteriorated. According to the report, she is unable to verbalize or care for herself and requires tube feeding for nutritional support.

Patients should be aware that mercury-containing skin lightening products exist and should be avoided when selecting and using skin-lightening products.

The American Academy of Dermatology has issued warnings regarding skin lightening substances that contain mercury.

Please consult with your dermatology provider if you are using a skin lightener or are considering to be begin use.

Source: Dermatology World, April 2020

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