Signs of mercury poisoning include emotional disturbances, fatigue, forgetfulness, and headaches. As mercury affects the brain, behavior and personality can also change -- with low self-confidence, depression, and timidity.

History of mercury use in skin lightening creams

The use of mercury in commercial skin bleaching creams and soaps goes back to the early 1900s.

Before 1970, commercial bleaching creams would normally use ammoniated mercury to produce a lightening effect on the skin.  These bleaching creams were aggressively marketed to black people in the US.

Applied topically, mercury lightens skin, but has a high spontaneous remission rate, which means that in a number of people, original pigmentation returns once the treatment is stopped.

In 1976, the use of mercury in cosmetic products was banned in the EU. The US banned the use of mercury in skin bleaching creams much later in 1990.


Mercury can be absorped into the body via the skin

Mercury and mercurial compounds can be absorbed into the body by inhalation of the vapors, ingestion, or skin contact.

As a poison, the damaging effects of mercury are subtle and cumulative, building up over time.

When absorbed, mercury has been discovered in blood, urine, bile, sweat, saliva, milk, and in pus on the surface of ulcers.

It has also been discovered in the solids after death, in the brain, bones, cellular tissue, serous membranes, as well as in the parts close to the joints, and in the lungs and liver.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning — physical and behavioural changes

The symptoms of mercury poisoning include:

– inflammation of the mouth and gums
– unsteadiness
– headaches
– general fatigue
– memory loss
– forgetfulness

There can also be behavioural and personality changes such as:

– irritability
– low self-confidence
– depression
– unusual shyness and timidity
– unusual fear and discomfort in normal social situations

Excessive mercury in the system has also been known to cause kidney problems (membranous nephropathy), tremors and muscle spasms.

Skin contact with mercury compounds can lead to irritation, including patches of inflammation and the appearance of tiny bumps close together.

These bumps may burst and discharge matter, which later crusts over, leading to soreness and discomfort.

Essential Reading: What to do if you’ve been poisoned by mercury


More about mercury

Before mercury was revealed to be toxic, it was extensively prescribed as a medical treatment for various conditions such as jaundice, smallpox, syphilis, gonorrhea, venereal diseases and vitiligo.

This old skin lightening cream ad for Palmer’s Skin Success boasted that it contains ammoniated mercury.
Another ad for lightening creams (Karroo Beauty Creams) that contained mercury.