Advocacy in Action
New York State Bans Mercury in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products
By Mary Ellen Capineri
Do you use products marketed as skin lighteners or anti-aging creams? If so, check the label. If the words “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury” are listed on the label (or if it doesn’t have a label), you should stop using the product immediately. Mercury is a toxic substance that can seriously impact your health and that of your family. Pregnant women are especially vulnerable, and so are nursing mothers as mercury can be passed in their breast milk.
The health risks are so serious that according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Sellers and distributors who market mercury-containing skin whitening or lightening creams in the U.S. may be subject to enforcement action, including seizure of products, injunctions, and, in some situations, criminal prosecution.”
Yet these products are still sold illegally through mobile apps and stores that market to people of color including Latinos, Asians, Africans, and Middle Eastern communities.
In the 2021-2022 New York State Legislative session, Senator Samra Brouk (District 55) and Assembly Member Karines Reyes (District 87) sponsored a bill that would ban mercury and 1,4 dioxane (a known carcinogen in animal studies) from cosmetics and personal care products. The bill passed unanimously in both legislative chambers. In December 2022, Governor Kathy Hochul signed it into law; it went into effect June 1, 2023.
We ask you to take two actions. First, if you have a skin lightener or anti-aging cream with mercury (or a related compound) on the label, or if it has no label, discard it. Put it in a sealed plastic bag or leak-proof container and check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for disposal instructions.
Please take a second and write to Samra Brouk, Karines Reyes, and your New York State Senator and Assembly member* to thank them for keeping mercury out of our cosmetics and personal care products.
* Find your representatives, including their contact information, through the League of Women Voters:
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/mercury-poisoning-linked-skin-products.
- UL Solutions. www.ul.com/news/new-york-state-bans-mercury-cosmetics-and-personal-care
This story appeared in the Autumn 2023 newsletter, Voices of the Ribbon.