Hazardous Products: Cosmetics and Religious Powders

Certain cosmetics and religious powders can contain harmful metals, such as lead and mercury. When you touch products that contain lead, lead may get on your hands. Lead can enter your body if you put your hands in your mouth after handling these products. Children are at an increased risk because they often put their hands in their mouths. When you use products that contain mercury, mercury may be absorbed through your skin.

Kohl, Kajal, Surma and Tiro

Kohl, kajal, surma and tiro may have high levels of lead. These products come from Asia, Africa and the Middle East and are primarily used as eye cosmetics. They can also be used for religious, cultural and medicinal purposes.


Sindoor, also known as vermilion, is a traditional powder used for religious purposes in Hinduism and as a symbol of marriage for Hindu women. The orange or red pigment is put on both children and adults and is intended for topical use only.


Litargirio, a traditional remedy from the Dominican Republic, can also contain high levels of lead. Litargirio is used for skin problems and as a deodorant. Local Law 49 prohibits the sale of litargirio in New York City.

Skin-Lightening Creams and Soaps

Certain skin-lightening creams and medicated soaps can contain high levels of mercury, even though it may not be listed as an ingredient on the label.

If You Have Used These Products

You should always wash your hands thoroughly after handling cosmetics and religious powders. Be sure to keep these types of products away from children.

Immediately stop using all skin-lightening creams and medicated soaps that list mercury as an ingredient. If you use non-prescription products to lighten your skin or for skin disorders, talk to your doctor.

If you have questions about these products, talk to your doctor. If you do not have a doctor, call 311.

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