In April 2018, the New York City health department warned its residents about ten skin-lightening creams from Pakistan and two medicated soaps from Spain with elevated levels of mercury. These products can contain up to 14,000 times the allowable limit for mercury in cosmetics, it said, adding that exposure to mercury can cause serious and life-threatening health problems, including damage to the nervous system and kidneys. In pregnant women, mercury poisoning can also affect the fetus and increase the risk of miscarriage.
Now, 51 non-governmental organizations from around the globe have sent letters to Amazon and eBay, calling on them to stop marketing “dangerous and illegal” mercury-based skin lightening creams. Nineteen skin creams, the group found out after testing, contain illegal mercury levels, with most having levels thousands of times higher than the legal limit of one part per million (ppm), established by the U.S. and many other countries.
The health department had warned that mercury may not always be listed as an ingredient on the label, so New Yorkers should speak with their doctor if they are using non-prescription products to lighten their skin or for skin disorders.
The Mercury Policy Project, Sierra Club and the European Environmental Bureau purchased skin lighteners from eBay and Amazon in May and September 2018, focusing on brands that had been previously identified as illegal by New York City, the State of Minnesota and foreign governments. Products were selected from “government detention lists,” including the April 2018 NYC dept. of health press release.
The creams being sold on Amazon and eBay included Chandni Whitening Cream, Goree Beauty Cream, Goree Day and Night Cream Dark Circles, Kim Whitening Pearl and Snow Lotus Cream, Kim Whitening Ginseng and Pearl Cream, and Sillman’s Skin Bleach Cream.
According to the Sierra Club, in the letters the groups are calling on Amazon and eBay to “ensure that products they sell comply with government regulations by monitoring government lists of illegal products to keep them out of their inventory”; and “require all skin lighteners get prior approval before sale, including sellers verification that the products do not contain mercury and are compliant with all applicable government regulations.”
None of the skin lighteners tested listed mercury on the label, so people have no idea that they are purchasing a harmful product, stated a press release from the environmental organization. Those that were labeled, it said, were manufactured in Pakistan, Thailand, China, or India, although many didn’t include a location.
While state and local governments are trying to keep illegal products from being sold, they can’t stop online marketing, said the Sierra Club.