Foreign-made skin-lightening creams, found to contain toxic levels of mercury, are poisoning users as well as the people they live with, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC identified a Mexican-made cream as the likely source of mercury exposure in 22 people in 5 households in California and Virginia. While previous cases have shows similar levels of mercury exposure from skin-lightening creams, this is the first instance where exposure has been measured in non-users, CDC said. The non-labeled creams contained 2%-5.7% mercury.
Among the sample, 15 people ages 8 months to 67 years had elevated urinary mercury concentrations (9 users and 6 non-users). Non-users were exposed to the mercury through contact with cream users or with contaminated household items, the CDC said. Younger children, compared to older children, had much higher concentrations.
While 15 people had elevated mercury levels, only 6 (all users) exhibited symptoms of mercury exposure. Users of the skin-lightening creams said they had used it as an acne treatment, for skin-lightening, and to fade freckles.
Although mercury-containing creams are banned by the Food and Drug Administration, high levels of mercury have been found in foreign-made skin-lightening creams across the country, including Chicago, New York, Minnesota, and Baltimore.
In 2010, an FDA spokesperson told the Chicago Tribune that with fewer than 500 inspectors dedicated to reviewing imports, banned items often get through anyway. The FDA could not comment before press time.
The CDC advises clinicians who recognize mercury toxicity to consider mercury-containing creams as a possible cause, even for children. Consult a medical toxicologist before beginning treatment, CDC advises.
—Frances Correa (@FMCReporting on Twitter)