Is this toxin in your skincare cabinet?
There is no denial the use of skincare products is on the rise among both genders with products that help unify and lighten the skin tone, remove age spots, blemishes and wrinkles topping the list. However, this craze may, unknowingly, come with a hefty price tag.
Unfortunately, moisturizing creams, soaps, and lotions, which are marketed as skin lightening products, often contain dangerous ingredients such as mercury and hydroquinone. Anti-aging creams that help remove age spots, freckles, blemishes and wrinkles are not exempt.
Why is mercury and hydroquinone used in cosmetics?
Despite being one of the most toxic heavy metals on earth, mercury was found to inhibit the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for giving skin its dark color, which prompted manufacturers to use it in their anti-aging and skin whitening products. On the other hand, hydroquinone was found to have a bleaching effect on the skin, which helps fade blemishes and age spots.
According to the Word Health Organization, there are two forms of mercury that are used in the cosmetics industry. Inorganic mercury, which is used in soaps and skin whitening creams; and organic mercury which is used as a preservative in eye makeup cleansing products and mascara.
Dangers of both mercury and hydroquinone
The use of products which contain mercury may lead to the formation of mercury deposits in vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and brain. In a study published in 2005, female mice that were treated with a skin whitening product for one month showed noticeable changes within their kidney tissues, as well as their liver and brain (1).
Another study showed that African women who used skin whitening creams for periods ranging from one month to three years had high incidences of nephrotic disease, which is a type of kidney disease. Furthermore, over three quarters of those who stopped using the creams went into remission (2).
Pregnant and nursing women using skin whitening products not only risk their own health but that of their babies as well since mercury was shown to pass into breastmilk (3).
Other symptoms of mercury toxicity may include numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around the mouth, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, depression, irritability, shyness, as well as changes in vision or hearing.
Mercury can come under several names so the next time you buy a whitening product or anti-aging cream look for the following words on the ingredients list, mercurous, calomel, mercuric or mercurio.
As for the use of hydroquinone, there has been a lot of controversy on its safety with some dermatologists regarding it as safe. However, a study found that carcinogenesis is a possible side effect of the long-term use of products containing hydroquinone. Moreover, hydroquinone use in cosmetics is banned in Canada.
- Niacinamide or vitamin B3: Niacinamide has the ability to reduce skin hyperpigmentation, as well as significantly improve the appearance of aging and photodamaged skin. In a study, Japanese women who were treated for eight weeks with a vehicle containing 5% niacinamide showed significant reduction in their facial spots (4).
- Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid or vitamin C is known for its ability to protect the skin from UV damage and stimulate the production of collagen. Adding vitamin E was found to increase the efficacy of vitamin C four fold (5). It is worth noting that vitamin C serums should be applied at NIGHT only.
- Indian gooseberry (Amla): In one study to compare the efficacy of amla extract and hydroquinone in reducing upper arm hyper-pigmentation found that amla was as equally effective as hydroquinone, without the adverse side effects.
Things to remember from this post:
- Anti-aging and skin lightening products may contain mercury and hydroquinone.
- Mercury was found to cause kidney and liver damage.
- The long-term us of products containing hydroquinone may increase risks of cancer.
- Vitamin C, B3 and amla are natural alternatives to the products containing mercury and hydroquinone.