Non-prescription skin lightening creams may contain toxic amounts of mercury, according to a study performed by The Chicago Tribune. The creams, which claim to lighten skin, lessen dark discoloration and eliminate freckles, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has prohibited the use of mercury in those types of products for 20 years now, yet when the Tribune tested 50 such products, six of them were tainted with illegal levels of the toxin.
The newspaper bought most of the products in Chicago and ordered a few online. Five of the creams had greater than 6,000 mercury parts per million, a level that is harmful enough to cause kidney damage “at least,” according to a researcher at the University of Illinois School of Public Health. The Chicago-area stores that sold the harmful products agreed to pull the products in question from their shelves, while a couple vowed to stop selling the creams altogether.
The FDA had little to say about the oversights, only offering that with a relatively small staff of 500 inspectors, “it is likely that things get past us,” said spokesperson Ira Allen.
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