Health officials: Some skin-lightening products contain mercury

The Minnesota Department of Health on Wednesday said some types of skin-lightening creams have dangerous levels of mercury and shouldn't be used.

Health officials tested 23 skin creams and four soaps and found that 11 of the skin creams contained mercury. Under federal law, skin products and other cosmetics can contain no more than "trace" amounts of mercury.

The health department's website has a detailed list and photos of skin-lightening products containing mercury.

The products tested by the health department were found at stores primarily serving the African, Asian, Latino and Middle Eastern communities in the Twin Cities, officials said. But they said use of such products isn't limited to those groups.

Health officials warned consumers to look at the labels of skin-lightening products and check for words such as calomel, mercuric, mercurous or mercurio.

Officials warned they were only able to test a limited number of skin creams, so there could be others that also contain mercury. At a minimum, health officials said consumers should make sure the product has an ingredient list and that the list doesn't include mercury.

In addition, health officials said consumers should not throw away products that contain mercury, because the mercury can get into groundwater supplies. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a list of sites accepting household hazardous waste.

Mercury can get into the body through the skin and can affect the kidneys. High levels of exposure can affect the nervous system. Unborn children and young children are most vulnerable to the effects of mercury.

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