Skin-whitening creams with mercury that promise you fair skin and anti-ageing effects have a hidden threat – kidney damage. Using such products can result in renal damage that may require costly medical treatment and hospitalization, cautions the Philippines Ecowaste Coalition in a recent press release.

The group cited 2 examples of kidney-damaging mercury-added cosmetics: the Pakistan-made Goree Beauty Cream with Lycopene, and Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream, which the Philippines health authorities had already banned in 2017 for containing mercury above the allowable limit of 1 part per million, but are still being sold online and in stores.

Samples of mercury-added cosmetics as screened by the Ecowaste Coalition.

A February 2023 report from the Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection documented a case of suspected mercury poisoning involving a female patient aged 40 who was found to have proteinuria (presence of excess proteins in urine) following the use of Goree Day & Night Beauty Cream for several months. Her urine sample revealed a mercury level higher than the reference level, which was clinically suspected to be related to the use of the product.

Considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as among the “10 chemicals of major public health concern”, exposure to mercury may have toxic effects not only on the renal system, but also the nervous, digestive, immune and integumentary systems, particularly the skin.

“Inorganic mercury poisoning following the use of skin-lightening creams commonly manifests with nephrotic syndrome and nephrotoxicity (toxicity in the kidneys),” said Dr Yu-Syuan Luo of the National Taiwan University.

According to the WHO, “nephrotic syndrome can be associated with a series of complications that affect an individual’s health and quality of life”.

According to a factsheet prepared for the EcoWaste Coalition by Dr Lou, “exposure to inorganic mercury salts like mercury chloride can cause lesions in the proximal tubule in rodents, while consumption of high doses of such mercury compounds can result in severe renal damage in humans”.

Neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds, according to the WHO. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction.

Consumers should accept and love their own natural skin tone and stay away from chemical skin whiteners with undisclosed mercury content, which is very hazardous to health. Be comfortable in your own skin. You are more than your outward appearance.