The toxics watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition, which has been tracking mercury in skin lightening cosmetics since 2011, warned Filipino consumers anew of the dangers of using chemical skin whiteners after a woman in Minnesota, USA went partially blind following prolonged use of mercury-added beauty creams.
“We are shocked and appalled by the partial loss of her vision due to use for long durations of beauty creams with unlabeled mercury content,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Filipino consumers, especially women and girls who seek a fairer skin tone, should learn from this heartbreaking incident and think hard about altering their skin color, especially with products containing mercury and other hazardous substances.”
According to a new report by CNN based on the case study by Dr. Erin Batdorrf of the Minnesota Poison Control System (MPCS), the woman suffered a partial loss of vision described as permanent after an extended exposure to mercury in skincare products for lightening the skin.
Aside from vision loss, the woman had suffered from other health effects such as fatigue, insomnia, leg pain and muscle weakness after extensive use of beauty creams containing mercury.
Based on the analysis conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the mercury levels in four beauty creams found in the woman’s home ranged from 4,590 to 18,000 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the 1 ppm maximum acceptable amount of mercury in cosmetics, except for eye area cosmetics.
Clinical tests by the MPCS also found high levels of mercury in the urine of the woman from 23 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) in 2021 to 46.6 mcg/L in 2022, as well as in the urine of her child from 5.46 mcg/L in 2021 to 6.88 mcg/L in 2022, way above the 5 mcg/L maximum acceptable level of mercury.
The MPCS also detected high levels of mercury ranging from 300 to 600 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m^3), way above the 200 ng/m^3 maximum acceptable level of mercury, in the woman’s household, particularly in the children’s bedroom with two bunk beds, in the washing machine containing unwashed clothes and in towels.
As stated by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), “people who use skin products containing mercury have been found to have elevated mercury levels in their hair, blood, and urine,” warning “mercury can damage the kidneys, affect the nervous system, or cause pain or rashes.”
“Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age should avoid exposure to mercury. Unborn babies, infants, and children are very sensitive to mercury. Even when pregnant women do not show symptoms of mercury exposure, it can affect their unborn children,” the MDH said.
To avoid the adverse health effects of mercury exposure via skin lightening cosmetics, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated its advice to consumers to steer clear of chemical skin whiteners that are widely sold in the market, including online shopping platforms. “Better embrace our innate skin color than be sorry,” the group said, emphasizing “natural is beautiful.”