Mercury ‘widespread’ in face creams sold online, according to new report

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Mercury ‘widespread’ in face creams sold online, according to new report

The chemical can cause serious health problems - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto: The chemical can cause serious health problems

Mercury contaminated skin lightening and anti-ageing creams sold on online platforms such as Amazon and eBay are ‘widespread’, a new report has found.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is trying to raise awareness of the dangers of the chemical and the challenges of regulating online sales, when laws regarding mercury in cosmetics may be evaded by non-domestic sellers.

ZMWG, an international coalition of more than 110 public health advocacy groups, tested hundreds of products found online and found that a majority contained the dangerous heavy metal.

And a 2019 analysis by the group of 166 products found 56 per cent to be contaminated with the chemical at levels above 1 part per million (ppm), the legal limit in the US.

While the EU prohibits the use of mercury in cosmetics, online sales by international sellers can be difficult to monitor.

According to the group, the regular use of skin products containing mercury can lead to rashes, skin discolouration and blotching.

Long-term exposure may also damage the eyes, lungs, kidneys, digestive, immune and nervous systems.

Personal use of a product containing mercury can also risk exposing other people through close contact, and may require “decontamination of the home”, the group warns.

As well as physical health risks, the report notes that the use of skin lightening products is particularly concerning “because they are a symbol of societies grappling with internalised racism and colorism.”

Most of the contaminated products are not made by European or American brands, but were identified in popular Chinese, Thai, Pakistani and Mexican brands that are sold on global e-commerce platforms.

“It’s really concerning that these online manufacturers continue to sell and flaunt and profit from illegal products that are doing significant damage to consumers,” Michael Bender, international coordinator with the Mercury Policy Project, told The Independent.

“We’re not finding 1ppm – we’re finding products that are hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of times above [1ppm],” he added. “These levels are astronomical.”

However, the 2013 Minamata Convention, an international treaty aimed at protecting human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, requires signatories to ban the manufacture, import and export of cosmetics with more than 1ppm of mercury.

“That is the game-changer,” Bender said. “We really need international cooperation.”

A spokesperson for eBay said: “We take the safety of our users very seriously. eBay works closely with product safety organisations, such as Trading Standards and the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to ensure items sold on eBay comply with all product safety laws and regulations.

“We also have automatic block filters in place to prevent listings of unsafe products. These filters blocked 7.4 million unsafe products in 2021. If something does make it onto site, we act quickly to remove it and provide product safety education to sellers to prevent relisting.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Safety is a top priority at Amazon and we want customers to shop with confidence in our stores.

“We require that all products comply with applicable laws and regulations, and we have proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious or non-compliant products from being listed. We monitor all products sold in our stores for product safety concerns.” 

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