Beauty may only be skin deep, but the damage from cosmetics reaches way down into the kidneys, brains, and other organs — at least, it does if those cosmetics contain mercury, as several brands do, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What’s even worse is that these mercury-loaded cosmetics are targeted specifically towards historically marginalized communities.
The recent FDA report found that heavy-metal-filled skin care products, soaps, and cosmetics are found mainly in stores frequented by people of Latino, African-American, Asian, and Middle Eastern descent.
The FDA has counted 35 potentially poisonous products, which include goods made by the brands Diana, Stillman’s, Lusco and Crema Aguamary, that are manufactured abroad and sold illegally in the U.S. They may claim to lighten skin, cure acne and reduce wrinkles.
In addition to “lightening skin” — a racist concept on its own — mercury-loaded products can cause a horrifying array of health problems. Mercury exposure can damage the kidneys and nervous system and interfere with the brain development of fetuses and young kids. Just taking a whiff of the stuff can bring on tremors, numbness, vision changes, and nerve damage. The heavy metals can also trigger emotional issues like depression and irritability.
So before reaching for the imported wrinkle cream, check the ingredients: If the product contains mercurous chloride, calomel, mercurie, mercurio, or mercury — or if the item fails to list ingredients at all — take a pass. If your beauty closet is already stocked with these kinds of cosmetics, throw them away in a plastic bag or leak-proof container. They’ve already done enough damage to people — no need to expose the earth to noxious contaminants, too.
Get Grist in your inbox