While tanning is unhealthy for some, skin bleaching is dangerous for others. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and the late Michael Jackson allegedly used skin bleaching, a practice to lighten skin pigment with chemicals. Jackson claimed he bleached his skin because of Vitiligo, a skin condition where areas of skin lose their brown color and white patches appear.
The FDA warns of dangers in many lightening products. Mercury is among the many potentially toxic chemicals in skin lighteners, though certainly not the only one. Products may use "mercurous chloride," "calomel," "mercuric" and "mercurio" on their labels, but these are all mercury, and mercury poisoning can make you sick. It can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around the mouth, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease.
"Exposure to mercury can have serious health consequences. It can damage the kidneys and the nervous system, and interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children," stated Dr. Charles Lee, a senior medical advisor at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a recent press statement.
The Mississippi Department of Health tested several skin bleaching products and found mercury in them. These included Creme Diana, Milk Cream and Lemon Herbal Whiting Cream. Products without mercury include Clinicians Complex 6 Percent Skin Bleaching Cream and Sally Hansen Extra Strength Bleach for Face, Arms and Legs.
If you are concerned about exposure to chemicals or toxins, contact the center for poison control at the University of Mississippi Medical Center at 1-800-222-1222. In an emergency, dial 911.
SOURCES: U.S. Food & Drug Administration; Environmental Working Group; University of Mississippi Medical Center