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Research findings

Warning about mercury in skin-lightening creams

Published Updated


Inorganic mercury inhibits the production of pigment (melanin) in the skin and can lighten skin. However, mercury is harmful to health and to the environment and its use is banned in skin creams. Studies from the Norwegian Food Safety Authority show there are a number of illegal products available on the market in Norway that contain mercury without it being listed among the ingredients.

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We ingest low amounts of inorganic mercury via food but not enough to impact our health. Mercury in amalgam fillings can also contribute to inorganic mercury exposure. These are small and insignificant sources compared to the contribution that mercury in skin creams gives to those who use it.

Slowly decomposes

Inorganic mercury is absorbed through the skin from these creams. The absorbed amount will vary, depending on the mercury compound and the other ingredients.

If you use a lot of cream, more is absorbed into the body. The body excretes inorganic mercury slowly (half-life of 1-2 months) and mercury levels in the body may increase gradually with repeated use.

The amount of inorganic mercury in the body can be measured in urine. Several studies show a clear correlation between the use of mercury-containing creams and raised urine levels of mercury.

Children can ingest mercury by coming into contact with the skin of people using these creams. There are also examples of the use of these products on children.

Harmful to health: 

  • Research suggests that there is a correlation between the use of mercury-containing skin creams and kidney damage and impaired renal function 
  • There are also numerous reports of skin damage (different kinds of rashes, uneven pigmentation) after use of these creams 
  • Damage to the central nervous system cannot be excluded with prolonged use 
  • Users also report symptoms such as metallic taste, increased salivation, sores in the mouth and throat, and nausea 
  • Since these products are illegal they are often not considered as a possible cause of health problems. Injury resulting from the use of such products is therefore probably underdiagnosed