Mother Loses Vision After Using Skin Whitening Beauty Cream

Mother Loses Vision After Using Skin Whitening Beauty Cream

A mother lost her peripheral vision after exposure to mercury in skin-whitening beauty creams. The report is part of CNN’s “White Lies” series, which explores the effects of skin whitening practices worldwide. These beauty creams were found to have mercury several thousand times higher than permitted levels of 1 part per million (ppm). However, these skin-whitening creams did not list mercury as an ingredient. Even her children and household appliances possessed elevated levels of mercury due to the hazardous beauty creams. This story is one of many in recent years regarding individuals and entire households exposed to inorganic mercury through skin-whitening creams. 

What Are Skin Whitening Creams?

Skin-lightening products, also known as bleaching creams, whiteners, skin brighteners, or fading creams, reduce a pigment called melanin in the skin. Some people use these creams to treat skin conditions like age spots, acne scars, or discoloration. In addition to alleviating skin problems, skin whitening creams have become a popular beauty product in lightening one’s skin color for aesthetic purposes. Opponents of skin whiteners claim the products perpetuate colorism while the user’s health suffers because of the creams’ harmful chemicals. Skin-whitening products generally contain a combination of active ingredients that control the concentration or production of melanin. 

Ingredients in Beauty Creams

Scientists have called into question the safety of skin-whitening creams in light. Reports of illnesses linked to skin whiteners have grown more frequent in the last decade. Ingredients that are sometimes found in skin whiteners include: 

  • Hydroquinone
  • Mercury 
  • Steroids

Each of these skin whitening agents presents several concerning implications for consumer health. 

Steroids are a common remedy for skin disorders because of their “anti-inflammatory effects.” Yet, people often abuse steroids because of the skin-whitening side effects. Hydroquinone reduces melanin levels in the skin, but the FDA recognizes it as a possible human carcinogen. Mercury has a bleaching effect that makes it ideal for skin-lightener products. The established limit of mercury in cosmetics is 1 ppm. Testing has revealed levels of up to 40,000 ppm in certain products.  

Mother’s Vision Permanently Damaged by High Mercury Levels 

A Minnesota woman has lost some of her vision and unknowingly put her family at risk after using beauty creams with elevated mercury levels. The woman purchased the creams on different occasions, locally and abroad, unaware of mercury as an ingredient. Minnesota Poison Control System tested unopened versions of the creams and discovered mercury levels of 11,000 and 18,000 ppm. 

She began experiencing symptoms such as insomnia, leg pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, and eventually, the loss of her peripheral vision. Unfortunately, she will not recover her peripheral vision. Urine samples showed that she had nine times the threshold deemed normal. Her children’s urine, the washing machine, towels, and bedrooms also tested positive for elevated mercury. 

Health Risks Associated With Mercury Exposure

Mercury blocks the production of melanin, making it a prominent ingredient in several skin-whitening creams. But, mercury levels in beauty creams far surpass the designated regulations set by the FDA and the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Exposure to excessively high mercury levels can result in the following: 

  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Neurological damage 
  • Personality changes
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Early childhood development issues 
  • Vision loss

Stricter Regulations Needed for Mercury in Beauty Creams

Certain communities are at greater risk of mercury exposure than others. For example, the  Minnesota Department of Health found that Somali, Latina, and Hmong populations are more at risk of mercury exposure in beauty products. The mother referenced above, who suffered vision damage, was originally from Somalia. 

Experts recommend more biomonitoring and community engagement to address mercury exposure from beauty products. Skin-whitening creams containing dangerous levels of mercury are still widely available on shelves in stores and for purchase online. Vendor and at-risk community outreach to boost awareness alongside rigorous product testing are necessary to protect individuals from skin whiteners with dangerous levels of mercury.