Health experts recommend being wary of skin-whitening creams after a Minnesota woman apparently developed peripheral visual loss that may be permanent — likely from exposure of excess levels of mercury in her beauty creams, according to a report.
"Mercury poisoning from skin-whitening creams can be very serious, as it causes nervous system damage that can be permanent," Dr. Eric Lavonas, a toxicologist with Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety in Denver, Colorado, and a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Fox News Digital.
"The best way to protect yourself is to stick to clearly labeled and FDA-approved creams and cosmetics," he also said.
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Cosmetic product labels, by law, must note the countries where the products were manufactured, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told Fox News Digital.
If a product is imported from outside the U.S., the information on the label must be in English, the health department added.
"A list of ingredients must be present — though we know mercury is almost never listed," CDPH noted.
Melanin is the skin’s natural pigment that gives color to our skin, hair and eyes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Mercury is often added to skin-whitening creams to block the melanin in the skin.
"It’s not safe to assume that by just reading the label, an individual can know the ingredients that are in the products," Amira Adawe, founder and executive director of the Beautywell Project in Minnesota, told Fox News Digital.
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Her company wants to stop skin-lightening practices and chemical exposures globally.
"I have been working on addressing the issue of skin-lightening and chemical exposures for the past 12 years and I have not seen any cream that listed the actual ingredients," she added.
Her company tested these products to reveal high levels of mercury and hydroquinone‚ even though mercury was not listed on the product label, she said.
A Minnesota mother, originally from Somalia, was referred to the Minnesota Poison Control System after she'd seen multiple doctors and complained of non-specific symptoms, which progressed to the loss of her peripheral vision, according to a CNN report.
The report was shared by Dr. Erin Batdorff of the Minnesota Poison Control System, detailing the extensive symptoms experienced by the woman, also a mother — and how home visits conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) found high levels of mercury in various places in the woman's home.
Fox News Digital reached out to the parties for comment.
A team from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency evaluated the patient on two separate occasions, approximately a year apart, according to the report.
On its first visit in 2021, the team found she had skin-whitening beauty creams from outside the United States, but was no longer using them.
The team found the amount of mercury in two of these creams was over 4,000 and 7,000 times higher than the acceptable levels — but mercury was not listed as an ingredient on the products.
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The mother’s urine tests revealed she had over four times the permitted levels of mercury in her body. One of her children also had elevated mercury levels in the urine.
On a second visit this year, the agency found two new beauty products that were bought in Minnesota, but one was not specifically labeled for skin whitening.
Since both were empty, the team tested unopened versions of the same product and found levels that were 11,000 and 18,000 times the permitted level.
The repeat urine tests in the mother revealed mercury levels that were more than nine times the level considered normal.
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This team also found concerning levels of mercury in certain parts and items of the home, including the children’s bedrooms and the washing machine, which was contaminated from clothing.
One of her children also had elevated levels of mercury, though those were much lower than that of the mother.
"As you wade through the beauty aisles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions that you should avoid skin creams, beauty and antiseptic soaps, and lotions that contain mercury," the FDA noted on its website last year.
Adawe of the Beautywell Project said, however, that in her view, the FDA has not regulated skin-lightening products effectively.
"Over the last few years, our organization has been doing advocacy work in Congress" with Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., she added.
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"As a result of this collaboration, funding was established through the office of Minority Health and Health Equity to address the issue of skin-lightening and cosmetic safety."
She noted that these creams are available globally, including in the U.S.
"lt is not possible to guarantee that an imported cosmetic for lightening skin or removing blemishes or wrinkles is free of mercury," the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) told Fox News Digital.
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So how should consumers proceed?
The CDPH recommends avoiding the purchase of "imported products with claims of lightening the skin, [addressing] blemishes or treating wrinkles."
The agency cautioned against purchasing creams sold by individuals, creams sold at flea markets or swap meets, or those sold via social media.
Signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning, the FDA said, can range from feeling irritable, having tremors, memory issues, numbness in the hands, feet or around the mouth, or experiencing changes in vision or hearing.
"When you use these products, your family might breathe mercury vapors or might become exposed by using things like washcloths or towels contaminated with mercury," according to the FDA’s website.
"Some people — including pregnant women, nursing babies and young children — are especially vulnerable to mercury toxicity," the FDA added.