Some skin creams formulated to eliminate age spots and freckles contain a dangerously high level of toxic mercury that can cause kidney damage, according to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune.
The newspaper found that six out of 50 skin-lightening creams tested by a certified lab contained amounts of mercury that broke U.S. federal law. Five of the creams had formulas that had 6,000 parts per million of mercury — enough to cause kidney damage.
The products tested were purchased in a variety of stores, including grocery stores, beauty supply stores, salons, herbal medicine shops and on the Internet. The products were manufactured in Lebanon, China, India, Pakistan and Taiwan.
Mercury in skin creams was banned in 1990 by the Food and Drug Administration, but the investigation shows that products are rarely tested and still readily available.
Dr. Jonith Breadon, a Chicago dermatologist, often treats patients who want to lighten their skin. "I'm shocked and speechless," Breadon said. "I just assumed since (mercury) was banned in the U.S., it never got in. But clearly that isn't true."
The FDA told the Tribune that fewer than 500 inspectors with the agency are available to review imported products, making it close to impossible that every product can be thoroughly checked. "It is likely that things get past us," Ira Allen, an FDA spokesman said.
Retailers selling the mercury creams said they would remove them from the shelves, and two distributors are discontinuing them.
Mercury is absorbed through the skin rapidly, and toxic poisoning from mercury can range from blurred vision and trouble walking to shutting down organs and in severe cases, death.