Cosmetics, Soaps and creams Print
Friday, 30 July 2010 16:56

Skin-lighteners are sold as creams, lotions and soaps. Hundreds if not thousands of them are available in the global market. Those that use mercury as an active ingredient often contain from 2 to 10 percent mercury by weight.  Products tested in a variety of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and North America have contained from 660 to 57,000 parts per million (ppm) mercury. Unfortunately, the most effective ingredients, which include mercury compounds and hydroquinone, are also the cheapest, and that induces many manufacturers to use them in products, despite their well documented toxic hazards.


Relevant legislation and NGO policy work

Legislation exists in many countries limiting or prohibiting mercury in cosmetic products.

In the EU

According to Directive76/768/EEU (and its amendments 2000/6/EU and 2000/11/EC) relating to cosmetic products, mercury and its compounds may not be present as ingredients in cosmetics, including soaps, lotions, shampoos, skin bleaching products, etc. (except for phenyl mercuric salts as a preservative in eye make-up, and in products for removal of eye make-up, in concentrations not exceeding 0.007 percent by weight) that are marketed within the European Community.

Mercury in cosmetics is also covered through legislation relevant to Trade of Dangerous Chemicals. The production (e.g. for export) in the EU of mercury containing cosmetics was also banned in 2003 under Annex 5 of the EU Regulation 689/2008 implementing the Rotterdam Convention.


 A project is currently (Jan-March 2011) being carried out in EECCA region, from the ZMWG via their partners AWHHE (Armenia), GEBMA(Georgia) and  Center for environmental solutions (CES) (Belarus). More details can be found here.

In Cameroon, an Inter-Ministerial Order bans the importation, marketing and use of cosmetic products containing more than 2 percent mercury. Under this order, twelve soaps and thirteen creams were banned (UNEP, 2002).

In the US see relevant laws and regulations.

The ZMWG has also been providing input on this issue at the global negotiations towards a robust mercury treaty. See the ZMWG fact sheet on skin creams