Some skin lightening ingredients work extremely well in the short-term, but are dangerous to our well-being and the long-term health of our skin. Mercury is one of them.
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- History of mercury use in skin lightening creams
- Mercury absorption into the body and organs via the skin
- Symptoms of mercury poisoning
- List of skin lightening creams with mercury (updated regularly)
- Published reports of mercury found in skin creams
- Common appearance and packaging
- Aggressive behavior by online sellers of banned creams
- Photos of creams with dangerous levels of mercury
- More about mercury
- Questions about the safety of specific creams in the comments section
The use of mercury in commercial skin bleaching creams and soaps goes back to the early 1900s. Before 1970, commercial bleaching creams would normally use ammoniated mercury to produce a lightening effect on the skin. These bleaching creams were aggressively marketed to black people in the US.
In 1976, the use of mercury in cosmetic products was banned in the EU. The US banned the use of mercury in skin bleaching creams much later in 1990.
Mercury and mercurial compounds can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of the vapors, ingestion, or skin contact. As a poison, the damaging effects of mercury are subtle and cumulative, building up over time.
When absorbed, mercury has been discovered in blood, urine, bile, sweat, saliva, milk, and in pus on the surface of ulcers. It has also been discovered in the solids after death, in the brain, the bones, the cellular tissue, in serous membranes, in the parts close to the joints, and in the lungs and liver.
Mercury’s effects on the skin and overall health (symptoms of mercury poisoning / excessive mercury)
Mercury can be extremely effective in lightening dark spots and stubborn pigmentation but has a high spontaneous remission rate (in a number of people, the original pigmentation returns once the treatment is stopped).
The symptoms of mercury poisoning include emotional disturbances, unsteadiness, inflammation of the mouth and gums, general fatigue, memory loss, forgetfulness and headaches. It may also lead to kidney damage. Excess mercury in the system has been known to cause kidney problems (membranous nephropathy)
Skin contact with mercury compounds can lead to irritation, including patches of inflammation and the appearance of tiny bumps close together. These bumps may burst and discharge matter, which later crusts over leading to soreness and discomfort.
Essential Reading: What to do if you’ve been poisoned by mercury
While the use of mercury in skin lightening creams have been banned for some time now, they are still produced and sold in lightly-regulated markets. Below is a list of known skin lightening creams that contain dangerous levels of mercury (more than 1 ppm or one part per million).
The list of creams below are just the ones that I’ve found, so it’s not an inclusive list.
I update this list regularly. If you know of a cream that has tested positive for mercury, let me know in the comments section below.
- Yin Ni Whitener Repair Cream (link to article)
- Santen cosmetic cream (link to article)
- LiLiki Whitening Day Cream / Cream 911 (link to article)
- Erna Whitening Cream (link to article)
- Aroma Magic Fairy Lotion (link to article)
- Olay Natural White (made by Procter and Gamble India, link to article)
- Ponds White Beauty (made by Hindustan Unilever, link to article)
- Monsepa Bleaching Express Peeling (link to article)
- Top Shirley Nourishing Cream (link to article)
- LMSER Cream
- Angela Placenta Whitening Cream (Tender Skin & Whitening)
- Youngrace Age Defying Essence (link to article)
- Angel Placenta Whitening Cream (link to article)
- Sanli Eliminating Freckle Cream
- Sanli Eliminating Freckle Cream Plus Complex Vitamin C & E
- LMSER Whitening Cream
- Care Skin Strong Whitening and Spot Removing pack
- Huayuenong 12 Days Whitening and Speckle Removing set
- White Advance Hydroxytyrosol L-Glutathione Whitening and Antiaging Cream
- Zhjren 7-Day beauty elegant moisturizing and whitening day cream
- Zhjren Whitening Ruddy Combination Suit
- White Magnolia Intensive Repair Essence Powerful Spot Remover
- Roopamrit (link to article)
- Seven Herbal Ubtan (link to UK product recalls + alternative pdf download, OAS alert with pictures, link to article)
- Melati UV – Whitening Vit. E Cream (link to article with photos)
- Esther Bleaching Cream (A) and (B) (link to article with photos)
- Gakadi freckle removing cream
- Natural Orange Whitening and Anti-Aging Package
- Hengxueqian Whitening Set
- Cellnex Anti-Sensitive Essence Treatment (contains betamethasone and mercury; link to article)
- SF Beauty Night Cream (Facial) and SF Beauty Day Cream (Facial) (contains betamethasone and mercury)
- Wiana Whitening Beauty Cream (source for this and the next 11 creams: Buckinghamshire County Council — opens a pdf with photos of the creams and their mercury levels / alternate link)
- Pai Mei whitening spot cream (30,167 ppm of mercury! link to article 1 / 2)
- Caike Red Ginseng (link to article)
- Goree Whitening Cream
- Faiza Beauty Cream / Faiza No 1 Beauty Cream
- Golden Pearl Beauty Cream
- Face Fresh
- Raj Beauty Cream
- Seven Herbal Ubtan
- Formula AA Arched Pearl Crème
- Fair and Lovely Forever Glow / Fair and Lovely Anti Marks Cream
- Gipsey Amazing Cream
- Olivia Crème for Unwanted Hair
- Seven Herbal Wrinkle de Crease
- Brite Face Cream (link to article)
- Due Whitening Cream
- Wiana Whitening Cream
- Feique Whitening Anti-Freckle Cream (link to article)
- Feique Golden Aloe Whitening Anti-Scar, Anti-Freckle Set
- Feique Green Tea Vital Whitening Freckle Removing Cream
- Bai Li Tou Hong (has 46,700 ppm of mercury!)
- Maidaifu Herbal Moisturizing and Whitening Cream (60,800 ppm of mercury!)
- Green Cucumber and Ginseng 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Set
- Loreial Paris Anti-Freckle Cream
- Yu Dan Tang / Yudantang Ginseng and Ganoderma Lucidum 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Sun Block Cream
- Yu Dan Tang / Yudantang Ginseng and Green Cucumber 10 Days Whitening Speckles Removed Essence
- Yu Dan Tang / Yudantang 10 Specific Eliminating Freckle Spot and Double Whitening Sun Block Cream
- Yu Dan Tang / Yudantang Aloe Pearl 10-Day Whitening Speckles Removed Essence Cream
- Yu Dan Tang / Yudantang 10 Days Sheep Essence & Ginseng
- Aichun Beauty Green Tea Whitening Speckle Removing Series (3-in-1)
- Aichun Beauty Strongly Whitening Freckle Series (3-in-1)
- Aichun Beauty Pawpaw Whitening and Freckle Remover Series (3-in-1)
- Aichun Beauty Aloe Vera Whitening and Speckle Removing Series
- Yuchun Hanfang (link to article)
- Tongrentang Yisheng Whitening and Freckle Removal Cream (link to article)
- Hua Ma ABC – Hua Ma Day Cream and Hua Ma Night Cream (link to article)
- Jiaoli (link with more information and pictures and 2007 FDA import alert on Jiaoli from www.PetitpriZes.com)
- Other names
- Jiaoli 7-Day Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set Cream
- Jiaoli Miraculous Cream
- Jiao Li 10-Days Eliminating Freckle Day & Night Set
- Jiaoli Huichunsu Whitening Speckles Removal Cream
- Jiaoli Huichunsu Special Cut Genuine Cream
- Xin Jiao Li 7-Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Cream
- Jiaoli Rejuvenation Essence 10 days speckle removing
- Jiaoli Speckle Dispelling and Whitening Cream
- Jiaoli Huichunsu Specific Eliminating Freckle Cream
- Similar products with possibly different packaging (appears to be from the same company, Harbin Gelidai Jiaobao Cosmetics)
- Jiao Liang Miraculous Cream
- Xin Jiao Liang 7-Days Miracle Package for Spots Refining
- Jiao Mei Miraculous Cream
- Jiao Yan Specific Miraculous Cream
- Jiao Li Extra Pearl Facial Cream
- Other names
- Mui Lee Hiang – Cream for Acne & Blemishes (link with picture)
- Natural 99 yellow cream – day cream, Natural 99 white cream – night cream (link with pictures)
- Rose Super White Whitening Essence (link with picture)
- Whitening Sunblock Cream – Day Cream (link with picture)
- EMEL SKIN CARE CO. No. 8 (link with picture)
- Dermaline (link to 2009 FDA Import Alert for creams containing mercury)
- Miss Key Whitening Cream / Crema Bianqueadora Miss Key (link to 2009 FDA Import Alert for creams containing mercury)
- Santa Cream / Crema Santa (link to 2009 FDA Import Alert for creams containing mercury)
- Mannig Beauty Cream / Manning Cream De Belleza
- 8% mercury by weight
- Bioactive Facial Enlightening Activator
- Day and Night UV Expert
- Jin Sheng Mei (link with picture)
- Ginseng (Extra Pearl Cream)
- Orrefor (Extra Pearl Cream)
- Pally (Nourishing Cream)
- Butae (Pearl Cream)
- Silvana cream
- Ly-NA (Nourish face cream)
- ALFA (Extra Pearl cream)
- Yin Fong (Extra Pearl cream)
- Diana Cream
- April 2009 – Import refusal report by FDA for Diana Cream and Acne Soap because of “unapproved new drug”, Refusal AC1-6395152-1/38/1/. Unfortunately, no lab sample analysis was done.
- April 1997 – Article referencing Canada’s alert on Diana Cream’s mercury content
- Civic (Nourishing cream)
- Ideal cream
- Cing-Cing (Roon Petch)
- Daifu (Herbal formula/pearl cream)
- Cream Minerva
- Stillmann’s Freckle Cream
- Has 39,000 mg/kg of mercury!
- Link to the EC’s Rapid Alert notification with picture
- Fasco Herbal Cream
- Has 440 mg/kg of mercury
- Link to the EC’s Rapid Alert notification with picture
- TOP-GEL MCA Cream
- Shabright Clear and Bright Skin Formula
- LuLanJina (white and yellow cream)
- Ling Ji Su (white and yellow cream)
- St. Dalfour Cream
- Miss Beauty Magic Cream
- Has 28,600 ppm of mercury!
- JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream
- Flower Woman 7-Day Whitening and Spot and Night Set Cream
- Sara Glutathione Sheep Placenta Whitening and Anti-Spot Cream
- Beauty Girl Natural Olive and Sheep Essence 10-Day Double Whitening Cream
- Other products from the same company Yudantang International, Taiwan (also contains mercury)
- Beauty Girl Papaya & Hawthorne Essence
- Beauty Girl Ginseng & Green Cucumber
- Beauty Girl Essence Aloe Pearl
- Beauty Girl Double White SPF17AP Whitening Cream
- Beauty Girl Egg White and Tomato 6 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle Whitening Cream
- Other products from the same company Yudantang International, Taiwan (also contains mercury)
- Miss Beauty Excellent Therapy Whitening Cream (violet and old rose packaging)
- Aichun Beauty Green Tea Whitening Speckle Removing Series Cream
- Aichun Beauty Whitening Freckle Day and Night Cream
- Shengli Day & Night Cream
- Doctor Bai Skin Revitalizing Skin Brightening
- Qiang Li Zeng Bai Qu Ban Wang whitening cream
- S’zitang 7-Day Specific Whitening and Spot AB Set Cream
- S’zitang Cream
- S’zitang 10 Days Eliminating Freckle Day and Night Set
- S’zitang 7 Days Specific Eliminating Freckle AB Set
- Yoko Gentleman Cream for men
- Jonathan clearing facial spots 12-day cream
- Gemli Glutathione Hydrolyzed Collagen whitening & anti-aging
- Gemli Glutathione Grapeseed Extract Whitening and Anti-Aging
- Gemli Freckles Cream
- Gemli Beauty Series Freckles Cream Plus Placenta Extract
- Qian Mei – white cream and yellow cream
- Cream Aghader
- Savon pour L’acné Diana soap
- Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream
- 33,000 ppm of mercury!
- Sensual Whitening Cream (link to article)
- Crema Aguamary face cream and eye cream
- Crema Antiedad y Desmanchadora
- Nearly identical to “Crema Aguamary” above. Has 130,000 times the FDA limit for mercury.
- Article with news video
- Long Dian Tu Glutathione Pearl Natural Whitening Essence Cream
- Feique Rose Refining Nourishing Set Cream
- Feique Herbal Extract Whitening Antifreckle Set
- Lianglibai Qingbanxuejizuhetaozhuang Cream
- Pretty Model Whitening and Freckle Removing Cream
- Women of Flower Whitening and Speckle Removing AB Series Cream
- Lamb Placenta Whitening and Anti-Aging Cream
- Forever Beauty 10-Day Special Cream
- New Baijiasi Whitening Night Cream
Many government websites also contain lists of banned cosmetics and soaps that contain mercury. For example, The Kenya Bureau of Standards has a list of banned products containing mercury (see pdf). The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) also has a list of skin creams that exceeded the FDA limit for mercury upon testing.
In 2004, New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted an investigation and had the mercury content of several store-bought skin-lightening products analysed (see page 3 of this pdf for the product list and their mercury content).
In May 2010, the Chicago Tribune had 50 skin-lightening creams tested at a lab (most of the creams were bought in stores, a few were ordered online). Six were found to contain illegal amounts of mercury. You can check the Chicago Tribune’s findings in this detailed list containing the names of these creams and the levels of mercury they contained (download pdf).
In August 2011, Philippine watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition conducted a test of 12 brands of whitening creams. 11 tested positive for high levels of mercury (download pdf). Later in October 2011, the same group screened 25 brands and found that 19 contained 1,395 ppm to 52,100 ppm of mercury (none listed mercury as an ingredient).
Most skin lightening creams containing mercury are either white or yellow in color.
Unscrupulous manufacturers can also easily change their product names and packaging to evade the authorities. The packaging for skin whitening creams containing mercury would also usually not list mercury as one of its ingredients, although sometimes ‘calomel’ is listed (calomel is mercurous chloride, a type of mercury).
In one case, skin lightening creams sold in white plastic jars with no labels were found to contain 5.6% or 56,000 ppm of mercury (2010/11 Health Alert from California’s Department of Public Health, with picture).
In another case, sellers of the banned St. Dalfour whitening cream not only stole an existing European jam company’s brand name St. Dalfour for themselves, but also reused the company’s jam jars! Perhaps most shockingly is that these startling facts aren’t enough to deter everyone.
Skin whitening forums are rife with sellers insisting they have the “real” St Dalfour whitening cream, as opposed to the “fake” ones. All without a trace of irony.
Read these two comment threads (thread 1) (thread 2) for examples of a typical banned cream seller’s spiel. Be sure to read the entire threads as they’re excellent examples of the aggressive online tactics used by shady sellers of banned whitening creams.
Initial flattery, assurances, over-the-top promises, and finally, passive aggressiveness, feigned “hurt”, intimidation, mockery or insults when they don’t get their own way. This is their modus operandi.
Read this article for some advice on how to protect yourself.
Creams containing dangerous levels of mercury
|Yin Ni Whitener Repair Cream|
|Jiaoli Day and Night Cream|
|Mui Lee Hiang – Cream for Acne & Blemishes|
|Rose Super White Whitening Essence|
|Whitening Sunblock Cream – Day Cream|
|EMEL SKIN CARE CO. No. 8|
|Jin Sheng Mei|
|Stillmann’s Freckle cream|
|Fasco Herbal cream|
|Shabright Clear and Bright Skin Formula|
|LuLanJina Anti Black Spot and Whitening Set (yellow + white cream)|
|St. Dalfour Cream
|JJJ Magic Spots Removing Cream|
|Miss Beauty Magic Cream|
|Qian Mei – white cream and yellow cream|
|Crema Aguamary face cream and eye cream|
|Crema Antiedad y Desmanchadora
(nearly identical to Crema Aguamary above)
|Brite Face Cream|
|Due Whitening Cream|
|Wiana Whitening Cream|
|Monsepa Bleaching Express Peeling|
More about mercury
Before mercury was discovered to be toxic, it was extensively prescribed as a medical treatment for various conditions such as jaundice, smallpox, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal diseases and vitiligo.
Questions about the safety of specific creams in the comments section
Many have asked about the safety of specific creams in the comments section below – i.e. whether this or that cream is safe or if it contains mercury.
I’m quite unable to answer most of these queries since I’m not an independent testing agency, nor do I have the funds or backing to source for these creams and get them tested on my own at third-party labs.
If you look through the long list of banned products on this page, you’ll find that the information was largely gathered from various countries’ government agencies and customs departments. They are publicly available information. All I can do is try to put the scattered pieces in one place.
So there’s not much I can tell you about the safety of a specific cream if you’ve already done a Google search and came up with little to nothing reliable on it (although I think finding little good information is already an answer in and of itself — no matter what, you’ll be taking a risk with it).
If you have questions or are doubtful about the safety of any cream, I would advise that you err on the side of caution for the following reasons.
- Long waits to identifying dangerous creams. There can be a long time lag between a cream with mercury first being sold and consumers being made aware that it is actually dangerous. Many creams that were found to contain mercury were only discovered to be harmful after many months (and sometimes years) of being sold.
- Lax or non-existent government monitoring. Most creams that use banned substances like mercury are manufactured in markets where there is little or no reliable government monitoring and control. Sometimes there can also be the appearance of oversight, but no real protection. Low-wage public officials that are responsible for monitoring the use of banned substances in manufacturing can be easily paid off to sweep things under the rug.
- Most creams pass through borders without being tested. Many product warnings on creams with banned substances actually originate from other countries’ customs departments during the import/export process. However, even this system is plagued with holes since only a small percentage of products that enter a country are actually chemically tested. So for importers/exporters, it’s really a game of numbers. It makes financial sense for them to continue shipping banned/harmful creams because they know that even if some will be seized, most will pass through trade borders undetected.
- E-commerce has made it easy for anyone to package and sell creams without certification or licensing. Little-heard-of creams that are sold in small shops and markets may be made in homes, basements, garages, etc. It is very easy for anyone to mix, package, label and sell their own creams. Do a search on ebay or alibaba and you’ll find all the chemical ingredients and packaging needed for anyone to start selling their own “magic cream”, complete with shiny packaging and too-good-to-be-true promises. There are no guarantees with these creams except that the people selling them will make some money. All the risk is borne by the users who might end up with irreparable skin damage, be hospitalised, or worse.
Laws and systems do work to protect consumers to some extent, but they cannot guarantee 100% safety. Just look at how long the product list on this page has gotten over time. It’s a sign of a broken system.
So the best protection is really ourselves and our own good judgement.
Here are two good rules of thumb
- Use creams that are manufactured by large, reputable companies with a global presence. Do an online search before you buy. If you need more information, visit the company’s website. A good manufacturer will have a way for you send questions such as a telephone number or an email address.
- Only buy creams that are sold in reputable retail stores. Your best bet is large pharmacy and supermarket chains (e.g. Boots, Guardian) as their retail buyers have to adhere to certain safety and quality standards. They also have a reputation to maintain.
And if you want to save some money, create your own skin lightening methods using natural ingredients such as turmeric, lemon juice and vinegar. They’ll cost pennies compared to expensive creams and you’ll know exactly what you’re putting on your skin.