The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a consumer safety warning about the dangers of using skin care products containing mercury. This warning extends to all cosmetics, lotions, soaps and other beauty products that may contain mercury. Exposure to mercury can cause serious health problems such as mercury poisoning or elevated levels of mercury in your body, and is especially dangerous for babies and young children whose brains are still developing, and in pregnant women.

Products that contain mercury are typically marketed as “skin-lightening” or “anti-aging” products that claim to remove age spots, freckles and wrinkles. These products may also be marketed to teens as a remedy for blemishes and acne.

The FDA recommends that consumers check all skin care product labels and urges consumers immediately to stop using any products whose ingredients contain the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury.” Do not assume a skin care product is safe to use, or mercury-free, if there is no ingredient list or product label. In fact, it is better to err on the side of caution and stop using any product that does not have a label or ingredient list because it does not comply with federal law which requires ingredients to be listed on all cosmetic and non-prescription drug product labels.

The dangers of mercury toxicity are not limited to the person using the product containing mercury but may negatively affect others who are around the person using the product. Mercury toxicity may occur through breathing mercury vapors or absorbing mercury through the skin after touching someone who uses a mercury-containing product, or coming in contact with a towel or clothing exposed to mercury.

If you discover you have been using skin care products containing mercury, stop using them immediately and contact your healthcare provider for advice on your level of exposure and your health risks. Questions may also be directed to the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. Before throwing away mercury-containing products, the FDA stresses that you should first seal it in a leak-proof bag or container, and contact local authorities or your waste disposal provider for instructions on how to properly dispose of any mercury-containing products.

Products containing these ingredients are usually made outside the United States, and are sold illegally in shops, through mobile apps, on social media, and online.