Toxic Talk and Labels

Beware Internet Beauty Products—They Could Contain Toxic Mercury

+ CV Skinlabs Team

You can find pretty much anything on the Internet these days, and beauty products are no exception. Unfortunately, there are some unsavory characters out there trying to make a quick buck by selling counterfeit and potentially dangerous products to consumers.

Here’s how to protect yourself and your family.

Tests Show Mercury Sometimes at Dangerously High Levels

In 2018, a Los Angeles Police Department task force seized $700,000 worth of counterfeit cosmetics after raiding 21 locations in the city’s Fashion District.

The products were found to contain bacteria and human waste and were made to appear as popular brands like Urban Decay, Kylie Cosmetics, and others. Detectives explained the contamination by stating that the products were made under less-than-hygienic conditions—often in someone’s garage or bathroom.

In November 2018, the Mercury Policy Project (MPP) issued a press release stating that testing of cosmetic products sold by Amazon and eBay revealed many contained mercury at levels higher than those deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has set a safe limit of no more than one part per million (ppt).

Later testing of additional creams purchased on both sites showed that some had mercury levels often thousands of times above the legal limit. These included Sandal Whitening Beauty Cream, Chandni Whitening Cream, and Face Fresh Beauty Cream.

Together with 50 other advocacy organizations, the Mercury Policy Project called on Amazon and eBay to stop marketing illegal mercury-laden cosmetics on their sites and to ensure that those found to have mercury levels over one part per million were no longer offered for sale.

Mercury is extremely toxic to humans. In addition to potentially causing skin damage, it can sink into the skin and end up in the bloodstream, where it can affect the brain, nervous system, kidneys, and immune system. The danger for pregnant moms is even greater, as mercury exposure can cause learning, memory problems, and behavioral issues in children.

What makes it worse is that the skin is particularly adept at absorbing mercury, so if there is some in a product you’re using, at least some of it will likely end up inside you.

Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products

The FDA has warned about this, stating that exposure to mercury from cosmetic products can hurt not only those people using them but their families as well.

Family members can breathe in mercury vapors released from these products, children may touch them or touch clothes that are contaminated with them, or even touch a person’s skin with the product on it, and be exposed.

FDA and state officials have discovered numerous products with mercury over the years, and there have been cases in which people exposed to these products had mercury poisoning, which is defined essentially as having high levels of mercury in their bodies.

The FDA has an import alert in place to help increase awareness of the products found to contain mercury, so they will no longer be allowed into the U.S., but they lack the resources to continually police the issue.

How to Protect Yourself from Toxic Products with Mercury

There’s no way to tell by looking at a product whether it contains mercury, as the chemical doesn’t have any smell, taste, or particular color. Authorities have also found that counterfeits are often made so well that the average person can’t tell the difference between a fake and real brand-name product.

To protect you and your family from potential exposure to mercury in skincare products, follow these tips:

  • Buy from reputable sources: Avoid flea markets and online auctions, and when you can, go directly to the source—the actual company that makes the product. Buying from your local department stores or other stores is also safe. When going online, choose sites you know you can trust, such as and the like. They typically have agreements with the companies making the products and aren’t buying from shady characters.
  • Buy products made in the U.S.: In the U.S., manufacturers must meet FDA requirements for mercury in their products. Check to see where the product you’re looking to buy was made.
  • Be wary of skin lightening and anti-aging products: So far, these are the ones that have tested high for mercury when purchased on sites like Amazon. A 2014 study found mercury in 12 out of 367 “skin lightening” or “spot removal” products purchased online and in ethnic markets in the U.S. All of the products were manufactured abroad.
  • Look for an ingredients label: If you don’t find it, don’t buy the product. It’s going against U.S. requirements.
  • Check for mercury ingredients: If there is a label, look for hidden sources of mercury including Hg, mercuric iodide, mercurous chloride, quicksilver, cinnabaris, and hydrargyri oxydum rubrum.
  • Give it the smell test: If a product looks or smells funny, toss it.

Early signs of mercury poisoning include numbness, memory problems, nervousness or anxiety, physical tremors, and irritability or mood changes. At higher levels, mercury can cause muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, feeling uncoordinated, difficulty breathing, numbness in the hands and face, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

If you believe you’ve purchased a product with high levels of mercury, contact the FDA about it, and see your doctor for a checkup.

Were you aware that some cosmetic products may be high in mercury?

ABC. “$700,000 Worth of Fake Cosmetics Seized in Los Angeles Fashion District.” ABC7 Chicago. Last modified April 14, 2018.

Cooper, Lauren. “Avoiding Mercury Poisoning From Skin Care Products.” Consumer Reports. Last modified August 5, 2016.

FDA. “Mercury Poisoning Linked to Skin Products.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Last modified July 26, 2016.

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