Mercury-Laden Skin Lightening Creams Flooding Amazon and eBay

The quest for flawless and fairer skin has skyrocketed beauty and skin care, one of the biggest industries in the world. Leading in this pursuit are skin lighteners with potent and sometimes dangerous ingredients. Of much concern though is beauty and skin care products infused with mercury, a dangerous skin bleaching chemical.

In our continued advocacy for safer skin lightening methods, we take a look at the online marketplaces sale of mercury, and in particular, we focus on the discovery of Mercury laden products on Amazon and eBay. Additionally, we will let you in on a global initiative to curb the supply and demand of mercury.

Are online stores like Amazon and eBay safe?

Since the advice to buy authentic and safe products is “always buy from recognized sellers”, it is only normal to assume that you are safer buying from online store giants like Amazon and eBay, except you are not! Dangerous Mercury laden products were indeed listed for sale on both websites as recently as 12th November 2018.

In an effort by the Sierra Club, Mercury Project Club and the European Environmental Bureau to verify worldwide claims of high Mercury levels in skin lightening creams, several skin lightening products were purchased from Amazon and eBay on 12th November 2018. Some of them had been identified to contain high levels of Mercury by New York City, The European Union, UAE, the State of Minnesota and Singapore among other governments.

The products were tested and the results couldn’t be clearer; 19 products had Mercury content of up to 10,000 times the normal threshold of 1 ppm. Considering the dangerous effects associated with skin lightening ingredients such as Mercury, the uproar was imminent; more than 50 civil groups reacted to the disclosure. They wrote to the 2 online stores calling on them to ensure the safety of the products they sell by ensuring that they are within government regulations, are not in the list of toxic products and are approved before sale.

The Narrative is the Same Worldwide

Despite widespread awareness on the dangers of mercury, manufacturers and suppliers continue to trade in mercury products. In most cases, proper labelling lacks in these products, which leaves customers exposed and none the wiser.

In an effort to bring this into light, recent research was released by the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG). The research centred on the mercury content of 238 skin lightening creams collected from 22 countries, in 2017 and 2018.

10% (34) of the creams were found to contain dangerous levels of mercury ranging from 93 to 16,353 ppm (parts per million), which is way above the permitted levels of 1 ppm. What’s more worrying is that in some countries like Bangladesh, about 50% the sampled creams had over 1 ppm of mercury content.

If that does not get your blood boiling, consider this; 15 of the 22 countries have laws against sale and distribution of mercury creams. To add on to that, among the 7 countries whose samples had very high levels of mercury, 3 had no legislation against beauty products with more than 1 ppm of mercury.

This is just one report in a series of others that highlight the failure or lack of actionable measures to stop mercury creams from finding their way into shelves.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) Initiative

ZMWG is a coalition of public interest environmental and non-governmental organisations. The coalition was formed in 2005 and comprises of over 95 member groups spread in over 50 countries. ZMWG is a brainchild of European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project.

The group’s mission is to “advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury”, as outlined in ZMWG’s official website.

Actions Taken by ZMWG

The group has taken several steps towards fulfilling its mission. These are well-crafted actions which have been ongoing in several phases, starting in November 2004 to date. Here are some highlights;

  • Being on the forefront of the United Nations’ mercury banning initiative, which has seen the ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. This has “resulted in establishing an effective Convention operational framework for achieving significant mercury reductions.”
  • Holding awareness and brainstorming events with stakeholders across the globe.
  • Calling on suppliers, including online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay to stop the sale of mercury-laden skin care products.  
  • Lobbying governments to comply with mercury reduction initiatives.
  • Bringing attention to the continued dumping, by EU members, of mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants on developing countries.

Final Word

Although mercury is useful in various applications, including as a material in scientific equipment, it’s highly toxic to humans, animals and the environment in general. Its skin lightening abilities, however, make it a common ingredient in skin care products such as topical creams and makeup.

Unfortunately, these products are found everywhere; from the smallest local store to the biggest online shops such as Amazon and eBay. In a bid to stop this liquid metal from finding its way to OTC products, and possibly phasing out its industrial use, ZMWG is one organization that’s truly doing its part.


Zero Mercury Work Group

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