Non-white females are more likely to be put in contact with dangerous levels of mercury through their skin care products than their white counterparts, according to state health investigators.
Investigators are going undercover in the Bay Area’s ethnic communities seeking out illegal skin lightening creams that can contain frightening levels of mercury and can put entire households at risk.
Mercury is prevalent in lightening skin creams because it limits the creation of melanin, which darkens skin. In some communities, having lighter skin can be viewed as a status symbol, with illegal creams used to get rid of sunspots or lighten a person’s overall complexion.
The FDA allows less than one part per million of mercury in creams, but an Alameda County woman was found to be using a cream that had 56,000 parts per million.
She and several other family members who had not used the cream were diagnosed with mercury poisoning. The woman in question was suffering from numbness, headaches, tingling in her hands and lips as well as dizziness when she was tested. She was found to have more than 100 times the amount of mercury in her body than is considered normal.
Most of the mercury-containing creams are manufactured outside of the U.S. and are sold here illegally, often in shops catering to Latino, Asian-American, African-American and Middle Eastern communities.
To protect yourself from possible mercury poisoning, avoid products that lack labels, listed ingredients or appear to be homemade.