A tub of cosmetic cream with a toxic-looking skull at the center of a cracked mirror, framed by a pair of hands and more skulls.

Mercury in Retrograde

The Dark World of Toxic Skin Lightening Products

The sale and trade of mercury-added skin lightening products (SLPs) have continued despite widespread sampling, reporting, awareness campaigns, and legal prohibitions, including a global treaty ban. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) carried out undercover investigations in three different regions (Asia, North America, and Europe) and was able to confirm the continued production, trade, and sale of mercury-added SLPs. EIA obtained compelling evidence from seven companies in three countries that they intentionally add mercury into SLPs, in violation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Our investigation revealed it is common practice for SLP producers across the globe to create creams consisting of 3-4% of a mercury compound. Detailed discussions with company executives make clear that these are not isolated incidents but instead represent common practices across the industry. Those who trade in mercury compounds are able to operate with impunity across jurisdictions. The results of our investigation are presented in Mercury in Retrograde, which examines the tactics and systems of SLP producers, sellers, and traders, and some of the sources of the mercury that contaminate them, with a specific focus on SLPs applied topically. 

Mercury and mercury compounds seep into land, water, and air, and are toxic to human health and the environment. EIA investigative findings underline the urgent need for the Minamata Convention to prevent the proliferation of toxic skin creams by strengthening the enforcement and compliance mechanisms for online and on-the-ground sales and combating the continued addition of mercury in SLPs. Parties must act domestically to ensure national laws comply with the Convention.

Read the report.