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FDA Warns About Mercury in Beauty Products

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Whether it's shopping online or perusing the aisles of a local beauty shop, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to check the label of beauty products for mercury and avoid products containing this ingredient. 

Even though these products are often promoted as cosmetics, they also may be unapproved new drugs under the law -  Linda Katz, director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors

In an official statement, the FDA told consumers they should avoid skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, and lotions that contain mercury. "Check the label. If the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury” are listed on the label, mercury’s in it—and you should stop using the product immediately," the FDA said. 

The products are usually marketed as skin lighteners and anti-aging treatments or as acne treatments.

According to Jason Humbert of the FDA’s Office of Regulatory Affairs, "these products usually are manufactured abroad and sold illegally in the United States, often in shops catering to the Latino, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern communities. They are promoted online on social media sites and sold through mobile apps." Consumers may also have bought them in another country and brought them back to the U.S. for personal use, he added.

According to the FDA, federal law requires that ingredients be listed on the label of any cosmetic or nonprescription drug. 

“Even though these products are often promoted as cosmetics, they also may be unapproved new drugs under the law,” said Linda Katz, director of FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

The FDA said it does not allow mercury in drugs or in cosmetics, except under very specific conditions where there are no other safe and effective preservatives available – conditions that these particular products do not meet.

Sellers and distributors who market mercury-containing skin whitening or lightening creams in the U.S. may be subject to enforcement action, including seizure of products, injunctions, and, in some situations, criminal prosecution, the FDA added,