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FDA Warns of Dangers From Skin Lightening Creams

THURSDAY, Sept. 1, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Skin lightening products can be dangerous to consumers if they contain harmful ingredients that are illegal for over-the-counter sale, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Wednesday.

The potentially harmful ingredients are hydroquinone or mercury, the agency said in a press release.

People who have used products containing hydroquinone have experienced side effects such as rashes, facial swelling and permanent skin discoloration, the FDA warned. Meanwhile, mercury is highly toxic and can damage the nervous, digestive and immune systems, as well as the lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

Skin lightening products are marketed as treatments for uneven skin tone, acne, age spots, freckles and wrinkles. Companies may describe skin lightening products as whitening, fading, smoothing, bleaching or whitening products. The products are often sold as creams, lotions, soaps or powders in stores targeting Hispanic/Latino, Asian, African or Middle Eastern communities, the FDA said.

These products limit the skin’s production of melanin, which is responsible for skin, hair and eye color. But hydroquinone and mercury can build up in the body over time.

“Skin lightening products containing hydroquinone are not approved for over-the-counter sale,” the FDA said. “However, you can get a prescription skin product containing hydroquinone from your health care provider. The use of mercury in skin lightening products is prohibited.”

Consumers should check product labels and avoid those containing hydroquinone or mercury. Mercury can be listed as mercury chloride, calomel, mercury, mercurio or Hg. Illegal products may be incorrectly labeled. Avoid products with handmade labels, labels in languages ​​other than English, or no label at all, the FDA said.

Report any bad reaction from a skin product to your health care provider and the FDA at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm or by calling 1-800-FDA-1088.


More information

The World Health Organization has more about mercury in skin products.

SOURCE: US Food and Drug Administration, press release, August 30, 2022

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