High Levels of Mercury Found in Skin Lightening Products Online, A New Report Says

A quick search on the Internet is all it takes to purchase whatever it is you’re looking for. Almost everything is available online and there are also lots of e-commerce platforms to browse through. Whether you’re in the market for new clothes, books, gadgets, or cosmetic products, you are sure to be bombarded with choices on the Internet.

The sad part is not everything you see or purchase online is authentic or safe. Take for instance skincare products, specifically skin-lightening creams. According to a report obtained by CNN, many skin lightening products sold online (Amazon, Alibaba, and eBay) contain high levels of mercury. 

The report was from the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), an international coalition working towards a zero-mercury policy. According to the CNN article, ZMWG bought and tested 271 skin-lightening products from more e-commerce sites across Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe. 

ZMWG revealed that 129 of these products were found to have high levels of mercury. They are also continued to be sold online on more than 30 different websites, per CNN. The research found that in 47% of these products, many contain 10,000 ppm of mercury while some have over 50,000. The international limit is 1ppm or 1 part per million.

Some of the product brands that were found to be containing dangerous levels of mercury include Goree, Faiza, Aneeza, Chandni, and Noor (Pakistan-based), Jiaoli (China-based), Kim (Thailand-based), and La Tia Mana (Mexico-based). The CNN article mentioned that these products, excluding La Tia Mana, have been previously identified to contain high mercury levels and are still available online. 

Why is mercury used in skin lightening products?

Mercury is a hazardous ingredient in many skin-lightening products, including creams and soaps. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these are popular in many nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. Dark-skinned populations in North America and Europe also use these products.

Mercury is added to skin whitening products because it can disrupt melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) production. Unfortunately, it is dangerous at high levels and can negatively affect your health in different ways. Some of its adverse effects, according to a WHO report, include:

  • Skin rash
  • Skin discoloration and scarring
  • Kidney damage
  • Reduced resistance (of the skin) to fungal and bacterial infections
  • Anxiety, depression

Pregnant women and those who are planning to conceive are advised to avoid exposure to high levels of mercury, as it could pose real problems to the mother and the baby. Unborn babies, infants, and young kids are sensitive to mercury and small amounts of it can negatively affect their brain and nervous system.

Many of these mercury-containing products have been banned in many countries because of their threat to health. The Minamata Convention on Mercury set a limit of 1 mg/kg (1 ppm) for these skin products. The sad part is many products contain much higher levels than the international limit to increase their whitening effect. 

These skin-lightening products are often easily attainable because they are sold on many e-commerce sites. Some people also promote them on social media and are offered through these sites and mobile apps. The skin lightening industry is also one the fastest growing beauty industries in the world and is estimated to be worth $11.8bn in 2026.

Are they safe alternatives? 

People don’t need to get whiter or brighter skin to be considered more desirable or attractive. Many, however, are still using lightening products to increase their confidence about their skin tone or to give dull-looking skin a more refreshed appearance. This is especially true for those who are also dealing with melasma and other types of hyperpigmentation. 

So, are there safe alternatives to lighten skin tone? There are other options that can help reduce dark spots and rejuvenate the skin. Certain brands like Obagi offer whitening products that can help smooth uneven skin and reduce moderate to severe age spots, sun spots, and melasma. 

There are also certain oral supplements like Diamond Tomato Rx that can offer a lightening effect for melasma and brown spots. This contains Phytofloral (a natural antioxidant) and tranexamic acid (an amino acid), which are found safe and effective in treating the said dark spots, according to clinical studies. This medication is only available through prescription. 

You always have the final say on which cosmetic or skincare products to use. To be on the safe side, however, always read the labels and research about the products before purchasing them. You can also get product and treatment recommendations from your dermatologist or aesthetic doctor.

Schedule a consultation

If you’re looking to improve dark spots, melasma, hyperpigmentation, and acne scarring, get in touch with us. Contact Cutis Medical Laser Clinics in Singapore and schedule a consultation with our aesthetic doctor to learn more about your non-invasive and non-surgical treatment options.