MERCURY

What is it?

“Mercury is a chemical element with symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is commonly known as quicksilver and was formerly named hydrargyrum.” Wikipedia

How is mercury toxic?

This substance belongs to the groups:

Mercury toxic classification – US

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that the toxicity of mercury compounds is extensively documented in scientific literature. 

The FDA banned the metal in most cosmetics already in the 1970s. But in cases where “no equally safe and effective alternative is available”, mercury compounds may still be used. So in case you are buying cosmetics products from the US, it is important to read labels carefully.

It is well known that mercury compounds are toxic, according to the FDA in these ways:

  • Mercury poisoning causes are numerous as the metal is easily absorbed by your body in many ways:
    – through unbroken skin by topical application. By for example using beauty products containing mercury, such as creams.
    – through the lungs by inhalation. Mercury in makeup such as powder risk being inhaled.
    – by intestinal absorption after ingestion. It is possible to get mercury poisoning from tuna. More on that further down.
  • One other reason why mercury is toxic is that it accumulates in the body, which causes numerous negative effects.
  • Mercury is also a potent allergen and sensitizer. It is common to experience skin irritation after using a cosmetic containing the metal directly on the skin.
  • Cosmetic products containing mercury compounds are often applied regularly and frequently for long periods.
    This kind of repeated use is especially common for mercury-containing skin-bleaching creams. This has resulted in the metal accumulating in the body in levels that cause severe reactions.
  • It has also been established that microorganisms in the environment can convert different forms of mercury into highly toxic methyl mercury.
    This is of great concern and is now considered to be a serious environmental problem as the highly toxic compound also has been found in our food supply.

The American organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a project of Breast Cancer Prevention Partners link mercury to nervous system toxicity and possibly endocrine disruption.

The metal is easily absorbed through the skin and is a developmental toxicant, especially hazardous during fetal development.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics means that any traces of the metal found in cosmetics is a concern because of the substance’s high toxicity.  The metal is on their Red List*.

Mercury toxic classification – EU

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has identified mercury as:

  • fatal if inhaled (this refers to the metal in itself, small amounts of mercury in cosmetics will not have the same effect)
  • causing damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure
  • is very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects
  • may damage fertility or the unborn child.

In the European Union, mercury and its compounds are prohibited for use in cosmetics (except those special cases included in Annex V). and are listed in Annex II by CosIng, the European Commission database for information on cosmetic substances and ingredients.

The free Ingredient Scanner from Curious Chloride reads your labels and marks all compounds containing mercury in beauty products. So you can avoid them easily.

Possible contamination

The following substances may contain impurities from mercury:

  • Hydrogenated cottonseed oil
  • Hydrogenated cottonseed glyceride
  • Thiomersal

“The Red List includes chemicals found in personal care products that pose serious, chronic health concerns including cancer, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental harm. The list also flags chemicals that are banned or have use restrictions by the U.S. or other world governments, ingredients that adversely impact worker health, and ingredients that are widely used in products marketed to women of color.” – Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

How is it used?

Mercury in makeup, beauty products, and medicines

In some cosmetics*, such as mascaras and eye creams, you can still find mercury-based ingredients. Beauty products with mercury content often include the preservative thimerosal. There are also vaccines that are still using the preservative, although it is surrounded by some controversy. 

Otherwise, most countries have banned the use of mercury in cosmetics.

But even though it is prohibited in many parts of the world, it is still possible to find beauty products that contain mercury. This is because there are ingredients that can be contaminated by mercury, and other metals, even though it is not listed among the ingredients.

Ingredients derived from plant sources, such as hydrogenated cottonseed oil and hydrogenated cottonseed glyceride are among those that may contain trace amounts of mercury.

So to be on the safe side, both of them are marked as mercury by the Ingredients Scanner.

Other uses of mercury

Mercury can be found in various places, material, and products. Some include thermometers, barometers, fluorescent lamps and in amalgam used in dentistry.

Mercury poisoning light bulb, is it possible?

Yes and no. There are certain light bulbs (and thermometers) that contain small amounts of mercury. However, if you would be unlucky to break one, it is unlikely that this will cause mercury poisoning, according to the NHS (National Health Service, UK)

Note though, that it is advisable to clean it up, carefully, as soon as possible. Mercury in these products is in its liquid form but can however turn in to gas.

So clean it up immediately using protective gloves, wipe the area with a wet cloth, and then leave and ventilate the room for 24 hours.

Mercury poisoning dental fillings, is it possible?

This is a very complex issue. The dental filling of concern is amalgam. Amalgam is an alloy of mercury and other metals.

Some countries, such as Sweden and Norway, banned amalgam around 2008, more than 10 years ago. While other countries, such as the US and the FDA, means that the dental amalgam fillings are safe both for adults and children from 6 years old.

The complexity in establishing if they are safe or not lays in the fact that we are exposed to mercury also from other sources. Researches have difficulties proving that the dental fillings are behind high mercury levels since fillings would only vapor small amounts.

In conclusion, to this brief info, if you are worried about your fillings, for example, because you are pregnant, you should consult your doctor to have them changed. There are other alternatives that might be safer. 

Mercury poisoning causes – more likely from food

if you would happen to have high levels of mercury in you, it is most likely due to the food you are eating. Exposure to the metal from cosmetics and dental filling is relatively low in comparison to the risk of getting mercury poisoning of tuna.

According to the FDA, most seafood contains traces of mercury. Tuna happens to top that list due to the fact that the metal accumulates. Tuna is a big fish that feeds on smaller fish which already contain various amounts of mercury.

If you want to avoid mercury poisoning cats, you might want to limit tuna consumption to an occasional treat for your furry friends. 

Avoiding mercury poisoning during pregnancy (and when your child is young) is most important as it is known to negatively affect developing neurological systems.

Mercury poisoning causes – more likely from food

If you would happen to have high levels of mercury in you, it is most likely due to the food you are eating. Exposure to the metal from cosmetics and dental filling is relatively low in comparison to the risk of getting mercury poisoning of tuna, for example.

According to the FDA, most seafood contains traces of mercury. Tuna happens to top that list due to the fact that the metal accumulates. Tuna is a big fish that feeds on smaller fish which already contain various amounts of mercury.

If you want to avoid mercury poisoning cats, you might want to limit tuna consumption to an occasional treat for your furry friends. 

Limiting how much seafood, especially bigger fishes, that you eat is also advisable for all women of childbearing age if you want to avoid exposure to accumulating toxins. 

You can ask your doctor to do a mercury poisoning test as it is possible to measure the metal both from blood and urine.

We use the European Commissions definition of Cosmetics:
“Cosmetics range from everyday hygiene products such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste to luxury beauty items including perfumes and makeup”.

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