Skin lightening creams are still racist, but now we know they're also chemically toxic

A new report confirms that many of the ones sold online contain dangerous amounts of mercury.

Cropped shot of a woman applying moisturiser to her hands during her morning beauty routine
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It’s 2022 and people are ordering skin whitening creams and slathering them on their faces and bodies, perpetuating white supremacy and the Eurocentric ideals of beauty. These products are physically toxic to us, too, apparently, as new research confirms. Even though the beauty industry has promised to do better, many skin lightening products sold online still contain dangerously high levels of mercury, according to a new report obtained by CNN.

The report was put together by the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG), a group of environmental and health NGOs from around the world. They bought and tested 271 popular skin lightening products from online platforms like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba. Although the use of mercury in cosmetic products is tightly regulated in many countries, their study found that a staggering 47% of the soaps and creams they tested contained high levels of mercury — some with as much as 50,000 parts per million, per CNN.

In addition to the fact that mercury is horrible for the environment, it’s also really awful for our health. The chemical is corrosive and applying it to our skin can cause immediate irritation and damage. The long term effects are even scarier: Inhaling or accidentally ingesting mercury can lead to insomnia, memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, according to the World Health Organization. And people are rubbing it all over themselves just so they can defy their heritage to look like Edward Scissorhands.

To be fair, we have known for a long time that skin whitening products contain mercury and the FDA even issued a warning about it in 2016 — but the chemical blocks the production of melanin, so it’s basically the holy grail fto dark-skin-haters. Still shocking to witness the sheer audacity that these companies have and the fact they’ve circumvented regulations across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.

In 2019, ZMWG actually called out the Pakistani company Chandni for selling a cream that had mercury in it and the company responded by removing its product from eBay, only to put it back on the market through a different seller once the dust had settled, according to CNN. Other brands whose skin lightening products contained high levels of mercury were Goree, Aneeza, Kim, Jiaoli and La Tia Mana.

Although it sucks that skin lightening products contain a deadly toxic chemical in them, it’s ultimately more frustrating that our racism, colorist, society has made this many people believe that they need to get whiter.