Illegal Mercury Skin-lighting Containing Cosmetics

ercury is added to skin-lighting cream because mercury inactivates the enzyme that leads to the production of melanin and it makes the skin lighter and achieves an even skin tone.

Mercury has been used in some skin cosmetic products because it is inexpensive and effective even though some chemicals in skin lightening creams may perform the same effect as mercury. According to World Health Organization (WHO), the allowable amount of mercury concentration in cosmetics is less than 1 µg g-1, but some of the illegal skin-lighting products contain above 1000 ppm, and some even exceeded 10000 ppm.

The motivations of using the skin-lighting products are to have softer skin, to conceal discolorations from pimples, rashes, or chronic skin conditions in order to make the benefits or get advantages in any context that can be life-changing careers, marriages, and fortunes are often built on the presence of beauty.

Therefore, mercury-containing illegal skin-lightening cosmetic products becomes increasingly popular in the world especially among ASEAN countries because people with white skin are more likely to get opportunities over brown or brownish skin even though illegal skin-lightening cosmetic products are restricted with legal and safety rules and regulations for sales.

Illegal skin-lightening cosmetic products are often manufactured abroad, promoted on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, and sold illegally through mobile apps, small shops, and informal markets catering to the communities of Asia, African, or the Middle East. The skin lightening industry is one of the fastest-growing beauty industries, a very profitable business, and is estimated to be worth 31.2 billion US dollars by 2024.

There are different types of mercury-containing cosmetic products. For example, skin care creams, facial masks, lotions, lipsticks, blush on and mascara, etc.

Using those mercury-containing illegal skin-lighting and cosmetic products is immensely dangerous. Because the skin absorbs inorganic mercury from skin lightening cosmetics through trans-epidermal and trans-appendageal routes, with the latter involving transfer via sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and hair follicles, through which mercury ultimately accumulates in the body.

Therefore, excessive and prolonged use of mercury-containing cosmetics may lead to the impairment of brain and nervous systems, kidney damage, including renal tubular necrosis, and/or autoimmune glomerulonephritis. Effect on a cellular level disrupts the immune functions, interfere with enzyme systems, and DNA synthesis.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable: mercury can cause developmental risks to the fetus. Therefore, women who are planning to get a baby or are currently pregnant are suggested not to use whitening creams and skincare products if they really do not know about the ingredient.

[1] Mercury Exposure and Health Problems of the Students Using Skin-Lightening Cosmetic Products in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.
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[2] Toxics Watchdog Group Exposes Online Sale of Chemical Whiteners Laden with Banned Mercury.
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Each one of us suffers the consequence of environmental pollution problems since the industrial revolution. Minamata disease is one of the consequence of environmental pollutions due to the mercury poisoning.

Exposure to mercury threatens human health especially developing fetuses and young children are at a higher risk.

The awareness of mercury intoxication and the sources of contamination should be alerted in order to prevent the health and pollution problems.