Mercury in Soaps and Creams

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has developed this fact sheet to address questions and concerns regarding mercury-containing soaps and creams, which are used primarily for skin lightening and disinfecting and can damage your health and skin.

What is mercury?
  • Mercury is a poisonous metal
  • It can damage your brain, nervous system, and kidneys
  • Exposure can cause symptoms, such as, tremors, irritability, and memory loss
Why is mercury added to these soaps and creams?
  • Although not usually promoted by the manufacturer, these products are widely used by people to try to lighten skin color
  • They are promoted as disinfectants (to prevent cuts or scrapes from becoming infected), and for many other supposed benefits (e.g., deodorants, to stop heat rash and acne, for dandruff, to kill lice, and to relieve blisters)
Why are mercury-containing soaps and creams harmful?
  • The mercury in these products is absorbed through your skin and may cause health effects
  • These products may also damage your skin and cause rashes, pain, and blotchy spots
Where are mercury-containing soaps and creams being sold?
  • Although banned in the United States, these products are being sold in many stores throughout the New York metropolitan area, as well as on the Internet
  • Many of these products are made in the Dominican Republic and European countries (where they can't be sold) and are exported
How are mercury-containing soaps and creams sold?
  • The soaps are sold as individually boxed bars
  • Creams are sold in small tubes or jars
How would you know if a soap or cream contains mercury?
  • The amount of mercury is sometimes identified on the packaging.
  • Some soaps and creams may not be labeled correctly. Check packaging materials and any instructions or ingredient lists carefully. Look for:
    • Hg (the chemical symbol for mercury) or the word 'mercury'
    • Mercuric iodide, mercuric chloride, mercurous chloride, ammoniated mercury, amide chloride of mercury, mercury oxide
    • Instructions to avoid contact with silver, gold, rubber, aluminum, and jewelry
    • The word 'Poison'
What should consumers of mercury-containing soaps and creams do?
  • Stop all use of these products
  • Keep products away from children
  • Place unused product in a sealed plastic bag. Discard with your regular trash. Thoroughly wash hands and any other exposed body parts that came into contact with the products. Wash surfaces that came into contact with these soaps and creams.
  • Contact your physician if you are concerned about your health or that of your child after using these products
  • Call 311 to report products that contain mercury or stores that are selling these products
What should store owners do?
  • Soaps and creams that have mercury added to them are not permitted to be sold in the United States
  • Remove mercury containing soaps and creams from shelves and inventory. Call 311 to have DOHMH remove the product from your store. DO NOT discard them with regular trash.
  • Wash hands and surfaces that were in contact with these products
  • Inform your customers to discontinue use of mercury-containing soaps and creams

For more information, call 311 or visit nyc.gov/health.