Even those women who appreciate the natural look — eschewing lipstick — usually use lotion (and plenty of men use moisturizing creams as well). Before, it was easy enough to think you were avoiding the worst heavy metal exposures from lead (avoiding eating old paint, check! Being sure lipstick was natural or not using it, check!), but the FDA just released information that another toxic heavy metal, mercury, has been found in lotions.


But before you freak out and throw away all your emollients and run naked into the woods, be aware that it’s a very specific kind of cream that is likely to contain mercury; namely skin lighteners that are sold in predominantly Asian, Latino, African and Middle Eastern neighborhoods and manufactured abroad.


Reports the FDA, “ 'The products are marketed as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles,' says Gary Coody, national health fraud coordinator in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Regulatory Affairs. 'Adolescents also may use these products as acne treatments,' adds Coody. Products with this toxic metal have been found in at least seven states.”


And the new warnings are not suggestions; in fact Coody states that use of the products should be discontinued “immediately.” That’s because mercury, like other heavy metals, accumulates in the body over time, causing eventual poisoning and even death. It is absorbed readily through the skin and is a neurotoxic substance — in smaller doses it can cause irritability, depression, tremors, and vision and hearing problems. And not just to the user.


“Mercury can vaporize and people breathe it in,” FDA spokesperson Siobhan DeLancey told MSNBC. “That makes it particularly dangerous for infants and small children. They [children] are likely to be picked up and held close to the face. Also, they are so young, and small, and the mercury will accumulate over a lifetime.”


Mercury might not be listed on the ingredients label of tainted products. It could be called “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric” or “mercurio.”  Users who find they have the products in their medicine cabinets are advised to put unused portions in a plastic bag and to contact their state or local environmental health agency for advice on disposal. 


The image at the top is just one of the brands found to contain the deleterious heavy metal; see the FDA’s site for more information. 

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Not just lipstick: Some lotions found to contain heavy metal
FDA warns users to immediately discontinue use of mercury-containing products, especially skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments that remove age spots.