Mercury in Cosmetics


FDA banned mercury in most cosmetics in 1974. The FDA has determined that mercury compounds may be used in cosmetic products only in trace amounts as a preservative in certain eye-area products when no equally safe and effective alternative is available for use in such products. According to FDA regulations, any cosmetic product that contains more than unavoidable traces of mercury is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and is subject to legal action. FDA has set a maximum allowable limit for mercury in cosmetic products generally of no more than 1 part per million (0.0001 percent) (21 CFR 700.13)

Any amount at or above 1 ppm is subject to strict regulatory action. FDA did make an exception for cosmetics intended for use only in the area of the eye. This exception applies only for preservatives in eye-area products such as eyeliners and mascara. It does not apply to creams and lotions. According to the Environmental Working Group there were 6 mascara products in the U.S. that contained the mercury based preservative thimerosal, but they have been phased out of use and are no longer available.

Several decades ago, mercury-containing products were popular for lightening or bleaching the skin. The same regulation that banned most uses of mercury in cosmetics and personal care products, banned this use of mercury. Further, FDA classified all skin-bleaching ingredients as drugs and required that they be shown to be safe and effective according to the drug regulations. In fact, FDA has taken regulatory action against mercury-containing skin lightening products that sometimes illegally enter the United States from other countries. Unfortunately, these products are still making their way into the U.S.