FDA: Mercury-Made Makeup from Abroad Possibly Being Sold to Minorities

A few weeks ago, GreenAnswers commented on the disturbing discovery of lead in lipstick. Now, the FDA has announced that there’s a new threat lurking in the makeup aisle: mercury.

Gary Coody, national health fraud coordinator for the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, reports that scientists have found the substance in 35 “potentially poisonous” beauty products, mostly creams and lotions claiming to treat acne, smooth wrinkles, remove age marks, freckles, and blemishes, and lighten skin.

Already, goods found violating the FDA’s face cream limit on mercury have been found in six states: California, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Texas, and Virginia.

Fortunately, the mercury isn’t in the big-name products, keeping this news from sparking a national panic. The mercury has been found in illegally sold foreign brands, such as Diana, Stillman’s, Lusco, and Crema Aguamary, that tend to cater to ethnic minorities, particularly Latino, African-American, Asian, and Middle Eastern communities. So unfortunately, say some pundits, the very people whom this news affects may not hear about it due to communication barriers. In other words, unless the FDA starts aggressively snatching the offending goods off the shelves, the makeup may well continue to be sold.

Officials emphasize, however, that any toxic creams found will indeed be confiscated from stores, and business owners carrying the products will potentially face fees and legal action. Yet that still leaves the threat of any lotions left lingering on the shelves, many of which either have labels written in foreign languages or no labels at all.

That threat, say doctors, is significant.

According to Dr. Charles Lee, senior medical advisor for the FDA, mercury “can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.”

Mercury poisoning can also lead to other adverse health effects, including depression, irritability, changes in hearing or vision, numbness in the hands or feet, tremors, and memory problems. And more concerning, the substance does not have to be directly consumed to cause complications; mercury is harmful even when only inhaled.

The FDA warns any consumers in possession of makeup described similarly to the creams and lotions above to “stop [use] immediately.” In addition, the agency recommends that consumers pay attention to what makes up their makeup, and look out for key words like “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercurio,” or just-plain “mercury” on cosmetics ingredient lists. Along the same guidelines, spokespeople advise women to be wary of any unlabeled makeup or makeup imported from abroad without FDA approval.

Anyone who has potentially been exposed to mercury should contact a doctor or poison control center as soon as possible.

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Makeup_brush.jpg

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