Mercury-Laden OTC Skin Lighteners Still Available in Atlanta

Almost half a decade after the FDA set the minimum amount of mercury allowed in cosmetic products to 1 part per million (1ppm), skin-lightening products containing up to 20,000ppm are still being sold in Atlanta shops. This is despite numerous campaigns against the use of harmful skin bleaching products and the banning of their use and sale within the US and other regions in the world.

Over-The-Counter Products

Set for an investigative mission, Nicole Carr from Channel 2 Action News visited some online shops and physical stores in Metro Atlanta. 

Her suspicions were confirmed when she was able to buy products that were not only banned internationally but also, as Mercury Policy Project findings later showed, contained the above-mentioned toxic mercury levels. One of the store owners even confirmed how popular the products were.

Regular customers of these products are Asian, African and Indian women who associate light skin with beauty, Carr gathered. Additionally, the demand was even higher during wedding rituals.

Earlier on, it had only taken Carr a few minutes to find and order the same products on Amazon. They arrived within 2 weeks, some coming from as far as Pakistan. This was despite the fact that major online stores claim to have filters in place for such products. 

eBay was no exception; Channel 2 bought a cream that contained mercury. Upon further inquiry, eBay sent an email stating that the product was no longer available. At the time of publication, Amazon was yet to respond.

Amazon and eBay have been on the Spot before

This was only a few months after a coalition of public interest environmental and non-governmental organizations, Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), called on suppliers such as Amazon and eBay to stop the sale of Mercury laden skin care products – in late 2018.

The Somali-American public health educator, Amira Adawe had this to say:

“We’re dealing with a huge public health issue that will impact generations to come knowing how mercury is very toxic”

Carr met Adawe at Karamel Mall in Minneapolis, another place where these products are freely sold. Adawe visits the mall regularly where she fines and warns stockists of the harmful products.

Also present was Adawe’s mentee Salma Ali who explains the significance of skin lightening during weddings in the Somali community; brides are required to lighten their skin from head to toe as a ‘beautification ritual’.

Mercury should not come into contact with your skin

Dr. Rutledge Forney, a dermatologist in Metro Atlanta explains that  “scarring, rough skin, tingling around the mouth and kidney damage” are all conditions linked to mercury poisoning. 

Unfortunately, mercury is rarely on the label, Forney adds, likely variations may include “mercuric amidochloride, mercury oxide, mercury salts, calomel, cinnabaris, hydrargyri oxydum rubrum, and quicksilver.”

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