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Skin products tainted with mercury

CNN Health
March 6th, 2012

The Food and Drug Administration is cautioning consumers that skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps and lotions contaminated with mercury have been found in at least 7 states.

The products are made abroad and sold in the United States as skin lighteners and anti-aging creams. According to Gary Coody, national health fraud coordinator in the FDA's Office of Regulatory Affairs, some of the products are being sold online as well as in Latino, African, Asian or Middle Eastern neighborhoods. They are touted as products that can remove age spots, freckles, wrinkles and other blemishes. Some may be used by teenagers for acne.

"If you have a product that matches these descriptions, stop using it immediately" Coody said.

"Even though these products are promoted as cosmetics, they also may be unapproved new drugs under the law," said Dr. Linda Katz, director FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors. "FDA does not allow mercury in drugs or in cosmetics, except under very specific conditions, which these products do not meet."

Mercury is highly toxic and exposure at high levels can cause damage to the brain and kidneys according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences," says Dr, Charles Lee, a senior medical advisor at the FDA. "It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children."

Even short-term exposure, the CDC says, can cause lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

So far Texas, California, Virginia, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois and New York have all reported cases of elevated mercury levels in skin care products. The Agency says consumers should check product labels for mercurous chloride, calomel. mercuric, mercurio or mercury. If those ingredients appear on the label, stop use immediately. Federal law requires ingredients be listed on all drugs or cosmetics. If there is no label or list of ingredients, or if the label is not in English, do not use the product.

According to the CDC's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, signs of mercury poisoning include irritability, tremors, memory problems, vision or hearing impairment, depression and numbness and tingling around the mouth or in the hands and feet.

The FDA is asking anyone who suspects a product they have been using is contaminated stop using it immediately and contact a doctor.