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Mercury Contamination of Skin Whitening Creams, Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Abstract and Figures

Background. In Cambodia, there is widespread use of skin-whitening creams containing levels of mercury that exceed Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) guidelines by up to 35,000 times. Mercury in skin-whitening creams threatens to compromise the health of Cambodians. Objectives. It is important to provide essential information on sources of mercury so that Cambodians can avoid exposure to elevated levels of mercury and to support informed management of consumer goods. Methods. Students were directed to buy selected skin-whitening creams that were then sampled with replication in 2011 and 2015 and processed with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) at the University of Health Science (UHS), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Discussion. The analysis of skin-whitening creams in Phnom Penh in 2015 was compared to analyses in 2008 and 2011 and showed that several creams produced in Asia no longer contain mercury. However, skin creams produced in Phnom Penh continue to use mercury and counterfeit products also are contaminated with mercury. Vendors occasionally identified Vietnam as a source of counterfeit products, but often the source was unknown. Mercury continues to be the metal of greatest concern in skin creams. Creams with more than 1,000 μg/g of mercury are a common cause of dermatitis (27% of cases). A new XRF analyzer was also able to detect more lead and arsenic than that used in analyses performed in 2011, and these two metals also exceeded ASEAN guidelines. Arsenic contamination also reflected the presence of bismuth in creams. Conclusion. Some producers of skin-whitening creams in Thailand, China and Taiwan appear to be aware of the risks of mercury contamination and have modified their products. However, other producers of skin-whitening creams continue to use mercury. XRF analysis allows for rapid screening of mercury in cosmetics and should be used to gather additional information on mercury content in cosmetics in support of public health efforts to stem the import, export and sales of skin creams containing mercury.
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Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
An analysis in 2011 indicated that
mercury was added to about 16% of
skin-whitening creams in Cambodia to
block the formation of melanin. e
maximum concentration of mercury
found in a cream in Cambodia was
35,000 μg/g. None of the product labels
indicated the addition of mercury. e
half-life of inorganic mercury in the
body is approximately 30–60 days, and
mercury levels in the body increase
with daily application of a mercury
cream. Inorganic mercury commonly
causes kidney damage and also results
in neurological toxicity and skin
disorders.- Although chelation therapy
Background. In Cambodia, there is widespread use of skin-whitening creams containing
levels of mercury that exceed Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) guidelines by
up to 35,000 times. Mercury in skin-whitening creams threatens to compromise the health of
Objectives. It is important to provide essential information on sources of mercury so that
Cambodians can avoid exposure to elevated levels of mercury and to support informed
management of consumer goods.
Methods. Students were directed to buy selected skin-whitening creams that were then
sampled with replication in 2011 and 2015 and processed with X-ray uorescence (XRF) at
the University of Health Science (UHS), Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Discussion. e analysis of skin-whitening creams in Phnom Penh in 2015 was compared
to analyses in 2008 and 2011 and showed that several creams produced in Asia no longer
contain mercury. However, skin creams produced in Phnom Penh continue to use mercury
and counterfeit products also are contaminated with mercury. Vendors occasionally identied
Vietnam as a source of counterfeit products, but oen the source was unknown. Mercury
continues to be the metal of greatest concern in skin creams. Creams with more than 1,000
μg/g of mercury are a common cause of dermatitis (27% of cases). A new XRF analyzer was
also able to detect more lead and arsenic than that used in analyses performed in 2011, and
these two metals also exceeded ASEAN guidelines. Arsenic contamination also reected the
presence of bismuth in creams.
Conclusion. Some producers of skin-whitening creams in ailand, China and Taiwan
appear to be aware of the risks of mercury contamination and have modied their products.
However, other producers of skin-whitening creams continue to use mercury. XRF analysis
allows for rapid screening of mercury in cosmetics and should be used to gather additional
information on mercury content in cosmetics in support of public health eorts to stem the
import, export and sales of skin creams containing mercury.
Competing Interests. e authors declare no competing nancial interests.
Keywords. Toxicity, mercury, skin-whitening cream, Cambodia
J Health Pollution 9: 33-46 (2015)
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams
in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
omas Murphy1,2, Sothea Kim2,
Prean Chanra2, Sereyrath Lim1,
Kenneth Wilson3,4, Kim N. Irvine5,
Darell G. Slotton6, Lori Allen7
1 Bualo State, State University of New
York, NY
2 University of Health Sciences, Phnom
Penh, Cambodia
3 Texas State University, San Marcos, TX,
4 Royal University of Phnom Penh,
5 Nanyang Technological University,
National Institute of Education, Singapore
6 University of California, Davis,
7 University of Wisconsin, Parkside, USA
Corresponding Author:
omas Murphy
Tel: (855)179-02023
Murphy et al
has health risks, at times it has been
used to expedite recovery from the use
of skin creams with mercury.- Usually
the body recovers once use of such
creams is stopped; however at times,
neurological and kidney damage can be
long term or even permanent.,
Unfortunately, use of mercury in
skin creams is common.- Social
pressure to appear pale is centuries
old and persists today. Reducing
the use of mercury requires both
education of users of cosmetics and
rapid detection of mercury to facilitate
enforcement and suppression of
sales. is paper reviews the use of
educational clinics in Cambodia and
X-ray uorescence (XRF) analysis
to detect and discourage the use of
mercury-containing creams. e
Minamata Convention has addressed
the issue of mercury in skin-whitening
creams in order to reduce the use and
availability of mercury (http://www.
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
Association of
Southeast Asian Nations
Complete blood count
Cold vapor-atomic absorption
European Union
Inductively coupled
plasma mass spectrometry
Inductively coupled plasma
optical emission spectroscopy
Non detect
Reactive oxygen species
Standard deviation
University of Health Science
X-ray uorescence
is paper reports previously
unreported aspects of our educational
clinics conducted in 2011. e
collection of creams focused on strong
replication in 2011 and 2015 to allow
for analysis of changes in mercury use
in creams. e main objectives were
to: 1) determine if the mercury content
of creams with a history of high levels
of mercury in 2008 and 2011 has
changed and 2) evaluate the presence
of other metals in creams.
Educational Clinics
Sampling protocols were approved
by the Ethical Review Committee of
the Cambodian Ministry of Health.
Students from the University of
Health Sciences and two Don Bosco
Institutes in Phnom Penh, garment
factory workers and women in the
service industry, were invited to bring
skin creams that they were currently
using for evaluation of their mercury
content. Don Bosco Institutes are
training schools run by the Catholic
Church. More than 90% of the study
participants were women between
18 and 22 years old. e analysis was
preceded by short lectures in Khmer
on the risks of mercury and were
augmented whenever a toxic cream
was discovered. e students asked
questions and some returned later for
more discussion. Students were given
interview forms and direction prior to
measurement of the creams (Table 1 ).
An important aspect of the clinics was
having students see the measurements
directly using a Niton XL3t handheld
x-ray XRF analyzer (ermo Fisher
Scientic, Waltham, MA).
e sampling methods in 2011 were
presented in Murphy et al. 2012. In
2014, eight products that had been
kept from the collection in 2011 for
displays were analyzed with a Niton
XL3T970 handheld XRF analyzer
with a sample holder. In 2015, sixty
cosmetic samples from 21 products
were purchased from April to May
from six dierent local markets such
as Oreusey market, Old market, Psar
om Toul Sanke, Kilo4 market
and Beong Keng Kong market and
analyzed using a Niton XL3T970
handheld XRF analyzer with a sample
In addition, examples of creams with
mercury were displayed as part of the
clinic. Most students took pictures
of the displays to show their friends
and families. e results of the x-ray
analysis of the creams were used to
select students to donate samples urine
or hair. Selection of samples included
some without mercury exposure
as controls, but most students had
used a cream with high mercury
levels. Analysis of urine was done
at Central Laboratories, Bangkok
using inductively coupled plasma
mass spectrometry (ICPMS) and wet
digestion. Hair samples were as long
as 70 cm and as short as 20 cm. ey
were cut into segments of no less
Murphy et al
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
dimethyl sulfoxide, which assists in
the mixing of mercury and reduced
sampling errors, but for safety, was
conducted only in the laboratory, not
with students. We had previously
conrmed the skin cream analysis
method with independent laboratories
using inductively coupled plasma
optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-
OES) and spiking. e analyses of
other metals in the present study
should be considered preliminary and
require verication. Our study using
XRF analysis of sediments found that
XRF results deviated from certied
reference materials as follows: iron (Fe)
3%, arsenic (As) 4%, copper (Cu) 6%,
zinc (Zn) 32% and lead (Pb) 57%. In
2015, the XRF mercury (Hg) results
were within 1% of a certied reference
material supplied by ermo Fisher Inc.
Statistical analysis
Microso Excel 2013 was used for the
basic statistical analysis. To determine
the signicance of r2 values in linear
regression the following website
was used for Pearsons correlation
corrchrt.htm. To compare the means
of creams collected in 2011 to the
same products in 2015, we used the
Mann-Whitney U test calculator at
the Vassar University website http:// To compare
the three ai cream products that
were measured in 2008 to the analyses
in 2011 and 2015 we combined the
three products into a ai data set and
compared the years using the Mann-
Whitney U test. For a Cambodian
producer of skin creams (pseudonym
Khmer1) we also combined creams
in groups by year. To compare the
signicance of the proportion of rashes
produced by skin creams, we used the
Vassar University calculator.
e thin lm method allowed the
educational clinics to proceed quickly
so that the students’ attention was
maintained. Students were very
concerned to see if their cream
contained mercury. Most were worried
about their health and planned to
avoid using any creams with mercury.
For screening purposes, the thin layer
method is much faster than the sample
cup method. In Figure 1, the relative
standard deviation for the thin lms in
triplicate analysis was 3.98%, whereas
with the sample cups it was 2.48%. e
samples in Figure 1 were all uid-type
creams with some water (Vaseline). By
comparison with more viscous creams
(counterfeit Lemon Herbal Cream
from Vietnam) the relative standard
deviation was 1.69% with thin lm and
9.24% for the sample cups. For viscous
creams, which are common, the
sample cups produced more variable
than 10 cm. Hair analysis was done
at the University of California, Davis
using cold vapor-atomic absorption
spectrophotometry (CVAAS),
following digestion under pressure
at 95o C in a mixture of concentrated
nitric and sulfuric acids with
potassium permanganate.
XRF Calibration
For most of the analyses presented in
this paper, about 0.3 g of cream was
placed on Mylar lm which was then
folded over the cream and placed in
front of the XRF analyzer in a sample
stand. For a subset of samples, 5 g of
cream was placed into sample cups.
Calibration of the XRF unit was done
by adding mercuric chloride to sample
creams for both the sample cup and
the thin lm method. Calibration used
Phone number
Approval to send results by email Signature____________________________
Weight (used to estimate skin surface and thus assimilation of mercury)
Skin cream product name
Bought where
How long does it last the user?
How long have you been using it?
Do you mix the product with anything else and if yes what?
Times a day used?
Face only, or % of rest of body covered?
Does it lighten your skin as desired?
Have you noticed any changes other than lighter skin?
Did you know that some skin whiteners contain mercury?
Table 1 — Interview Questions
Murphy et al
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
data. For screening purposes, this
degree of variability was not a concern.
e response with the sample cups
was more curvilinear than was seen
in the thin lm layer in Figure 1, but
by itself, this was not a signicant
concern. With higher concentrations
of mercury, the response was more
curvilinear (data not shown).
Because of the greater adsorption
of uorescent x-rays by mercury at
high concentrations, XRF analysis is
fundamentally curvilinear. Likely
this self-adsorption of mercury at
higher concentrations is also greater
in thicker samples. For screening
purposes, this small deviation causing
a curvilinear response is not a concern.
In Figure 1, the detection of mercury
was virtually 1:1. Recoveries of
mercury were close to 100% and never
more than 110% or less than 98%.
e cream used in Figure 1 contained
about 6.5% titanium, but this had
no apparent eect on the mercury
analysis. However, the mercury greatly
impeded the measurement of titanium.
e degree of suppression varied
with the mercury concentration:
5,000 μg/g Hg suppressed titanium
measurement by 90%. e variability
of the XRF analysis of titanium (Ti)
was much greater than for other
metals. For example, in a set of 6
products analyzed in triplicate, the
average coecients of variation for
titanium and mercury were 33.9% and
7.4%, respectively. Each of the tested
products had more than 1000 μg Ti/g
or 600 μg Hg/g. e subsampling of
viscous creams is awkward, but even
with a uid sunblock and use of a
Vortex stirrer immediately before
subsampling, the variability in Ti
analysis was high with both the thin
lm and cup methods.
Eect of Sample Depth on
XRF Analysis
e ermo Niton manual suggests
using deep samples, which is not
optimal for screening skin creams.
When the depth of cream (or plastic)
varies, the depth of the samples
should be recorded in the analyzer.
e algorithm is then able to make
accommodations for depth. If the
sample cups were used, another
variable was added to the analysis
because the volume of cream was
oen less than 5 ml and an attempt
should be made to measure the height
of the sample. Without correction for
height, the error could be as much as
40%. With the thin lm method, all
triplicates had coecients of variation
less than 9%. As can be seen in Figure
2, the curve appears to be the attest
(least variable) with cream sample
thicknesses of 0.2 to 0.7 mm. Veried
by testing on multiple days, spiked
samples within this range of depths
produced an average of 99% recovery.
Note that in Figure 2, we kept the
sample thickness setting on the
analyzer at 0.3 mm. is was done to
evaluate whether sample thickness had
an important eect on the thickness
used for the thin sample method. It
is easy to work within the desired
thickness of 0.2 to 0.7 mm. For routine
analysis it is unnecessary to measure
the sample thickness.
Mercury Analysis with a in
Film Method
e procedure recommended in the
ermo manual uses sample cups, but
this is awkward for screening of skin
creams. e manual is mainly written
to guide the preparation of geological
powders and soil samples. Many
skin creams are too viscous to ll the
sample cups well. For viscous creams it
is dicult to avoid having air bubbles
at the bottom of the sample cup, which
reduces the apparent concentration
of mercury. Moreover, the ermo
manual’s suggestion of samples of at
least 5 g is impossible for many of
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Murphy et al
01000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000
Measured Hg μg/g
Spiked Hg μg/g
Thin Layer
Figure 1 — Comparison of in Layer and Sample Cup Methods
For linear regression analysis, the thin lm method had a slightly better r2 (0.9911) vs the
cup method (0.9888). e standard deviations were slightly larger in the thin lms (mean
3.98%) vs sample cups (mean 2.48%), but were only larger than the sample dots, with one
sample spiked with 6000 μg/g mercury.
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
the creams which are oen sold in 3
ml jars. For screening purposes, it
is not necessary to have a 5 g sample.
Students did not mind donating 0.3 g
of their cream, but may have had an
issue with donating the entire cream.
Creams could be removed from the
sample cups, but this would take
time, and handling of these products
should be kept to a minimum or be
done in a fume hood, which is not
conducive to a live demonstration.
Our demonstrations were typically
done in simple classrooms with over
30 students.
Advantages of in Film vs Sample
Cup Method
1) No need for cups, which reduces
costs and amount of toxic wastes.
2) Much smaller mass of sample
needed (~0. 3 g vs >5 g).
3) Much faster, which is important
when screening many samples in front
of students.
4) With viscous creams there is
better reproducibility due to fewer air
bubbles produced by sample transfer
to the sample and which are resistant
to release by Vortex agitation.
Comparison of Samples from 2015 to
Earlier Sampling in 2008 and 2011
In 2015, mercury was detected in
41% of samples. In 2011, 16% of
581 creams collected in non-biased
clinics contained detectable mercury.
For simplicity, the same detection
level of 20 μg/g as was determined
in 2011 was used for both, i.e. results
lower than 20 μg/g in 2015 were
considered non-detects. In this case,
the dierences in sample processing
and smaller sample size in 2015 (n=60)
did not warrant discussion of the
signicance of the apparent increase
in the proportion of samples in which
mercury was detected. e highest
mercury concentration found in 2015
was 6,305 μg/g, whereas it was 35,000
μg/g in 2011. Table 2 illustrates that
in 2015, mercury was found at much
higher concentrations than arsenic or
lead, the only other toxic metals above
the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) guidelines.
Other Metals
In 2015, the XRF analysis was done
with a newer model and appeared
to detect more arsenic and lead.
ese results should be considered
preliminary and qualitative, but could
guide future sampling. Lead is able to
suppress detection of arsenic in XRF
analysis and these results might mask
the signicance of arsenic in skin
creams. In 2011, the XRF analyzer
results of As and Pb in soils were
Murphy et al
Figure 2 — Eect of Sample Depth on Mercury Measurement
All samples in
Figure 2 used
the same skin
cream (“Lemon
Cream” from
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
conrmed with certied reference
materials and detection levels were
about 9 μg/g for Pb and 13 μg/g for
As. In 2015, the detection levels were
about 5 μg/g for both Pb and As.
By ignoring detected values lower
than the 2011 detection level, the
increases in arsenic and lead in skin
creams were signicant (α = 0.05) in a
Mann-Whitney analysis. No lead was
observed in creams in 2011, whereas
it was detected in 22% of creams in
2015. Only 6% of creams in 2011
appeared to contain arsenic, whereas
in 2015, 22% of creams appeared to
contain arsenic. In 2015, two samples
of Rojzy Jiali appeared to exceed the
ASEAN guideline for arsenic by a
factor of about 9 times. In 2015, Qian
Mei exceeded the ASEAN guideline
for arsenic by up to three-fold. e
Chinese cream Qian Mei contained
bismuth that was contaminated with
arsenic. Figure 3 illustrates a highly
signicant relationship between
bismuth and arsenic (r2 = 0.858, p
< .0.01, four of the 17 points were
superimposed). A set of 8 samples
from the 2011 collection were kept
for display and analyzed in 2014. e
relationship between bismuth (Bi)
and arsenic was y = 0.0144x - 8.0129,
r2 = 0.99, n = 8. e relationship
As ± SD (n)
Pb ± SD (n)
Hg ± SD (n)
ailand 2008 3 products ND (3) ND (3) 4600 ± 3608 (3)
ailand 2011 3 products ND (9) ND (9) ND (3) Signicant p <0.01
ailand 2015 3 products ND (9) ND (9) ND (3) Signicant p <0.1
Taiwan 2011 Rojzy Jiali ND (6) ND (6) 4333 ± 4791 (6)
Taiwan 2015 Rojzy Jiali ND (9) 32 ± 28 (4) 28 ± 30 (4) Signicant p <0.01
China 2011 Hua u Li ND (10) ND (10) 6401 ± 7397 (10)
China 2015 Hua u Li ND (5) ND (5) 0 ± 0 (5) Signicant p < 0.01
China 2011 Qian Mei ND (10) ND (10) 3779 ± 1926 (10)
China 2015 Qian Mei ND (12) 9 ± 4 (12) 17 ± 31 (12) Signicant p < 0.01
Cambodia 2011 3 products* ND (4) ND (4) 2599 ± 2320 (4)
Cambodia 2015 13 products 9 ± 31 (13) ND (13) 2022 ± 2232 (13) Not Signicant
USA 2011 “Enjoy” ND (6) ND (6) 12947 ± 826 (6)
USA 2015 “Enjoy” 52 ± 9 (6) ND (6) 5989 ± 252 (6) Signicant p < 0.01
Vietnam 2015 “Lemon 5 ± 5 (6) ND (6) 3649 ± 229 (6) Reported bootleg
Table 2 — Metals in Skin Whitening Creams 2008, 2011 and 2015
ai Creams: Ninatop, Me One, Ucare All values are µg/g
*Khmer1 “Lemon” is fake Lemon Herbal ND = non-detect
± SD (n) is standard deviation ± (number of samples)
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Murphy et al
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
between Bi (x) and As (y) in 2011 and
2014 was similar (2011: y = 0.0093 x
-0.1884), but any statistical analysis of
limited data is inappropriate. e one
extreme sample of Rojzy Jiali analyzed
in 2014 exceeded ASEAN guidelines
for arsenic by 86 times. e trend in
the 2014 data was dominated by one
sample of Rojzy Jiali that contained
433 μg/g of arsenic, and 30,270 μg/g
of bismuth. Of the eight samples
reprocessed in 2014, ve contained
more than 39 μg/g of arsenic, which
conrms that the newer analyzer was
more sensitive for arsenic analysis.
Some other creams such as fake
Lemon Herbal contained similar
concentrations of bismuth, but had
undetectable levels of arsenic. Clearly
if one producer can nd a supply of
bismuth without arsenic, all could.
Another interesting relationship is
the signicant correlation between
tin and mercury in Khmer1 cream
products in 2015 (r2 = 0.7006, n =
14 p<0.01, Figure 4). Mercury and
tin are found together in geological
deposits. Mercury in other products
such as fake Lemon Herbal had no
tin and presumably got their mercury
from another source. e set of ve
samples of the fake cream “Enjoy”
had two samples with high tin and
high mercury, but three with high
mercury and low tin, so there was
no signicant relationship in “Enjoy”
creams between tin and mercury.
We commonly detected the following
15 elements: Arsenic (As), barium
(Ba), Bismuth (Bi), bromine (Br),
chlorine (Cl), chromium (Cr), copper
(Cu), iron (Fe), mercury (Hg),
nickel (Ni), lead (Pb), antimony
(Sb), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti) and
zinc (Zn). Moreover cadmium (Cd),
selenium (Se), and vanadium (V)
were occasionally detected. Analysis
of these 18 elements might at times
ngerprint producers of bootleg
creams. However, this is likely
done with a simpler analysis. Some
bootleg products are obvious. Figure
5 shows “Enjoy” cream packaging
that was purchased at markets. Note
the obvious worn appearance of the
packaging. e label claims that this
Enjoy cream is produced in the USA.
With “Lemon Herbal” and other
creams a vendor said that they were
produced in Vietnam and placed into
packaging that was recycled. is
vendor oered a discount for recycled
cream containers and packaging.
e labeling on the “Lemon Herbal
package said it was produced in
ailand. Not all use of mercury is
hidden by bootlegging. Eight of 13
products of Khmer1 creams contained
mercury. is producer in Phnom
Penh operates outlet stores. In 2011,
a third of such small companies
including beauty shops produced
whitening creams with mercury and
there is no reason to believe that this
has changed. We sampled Khmer1
creams only as an example, but believe
mercury is as common now in beauty
shops in Phnom Penh as it was in
e improved sensitivity of the
new XRF analyzer could better
support more detailed assessment
of dermatitis in relation to other
ingredients contained within the
creams. In interviews in 2011,
students using creams with more than
1,000 μg/g mercury were signicantly
(P < 0.0002, two tailed) more likely
to develop a skin rash. Of 30 students
using a cream with more than 1,000
μg/g of mercury, eight reported having
a rash. In the set of students (n = 274)
using a cream with less than 1,000
μg/g of mercury, only ve reported
having a rash. ese 5 creams did not
contain mercury. ere were
30 creams with less than 1,000 μg/g,
but with detectible concentrations of
mercury (20–100 μg/g. n = 12; 100-
500 μg/g, n = 12; 500-1,000 μg/g,
n = 6).
Two cases of allergic reaction were
associated with commercial creams
containing 8,000 μg/g and 13,000 μg/g
of titanium, a common ingredient in
Murphy et al
R² = 0.858
0 500 1000 1500 2000
Arsenic µg/g
Bismuth µg/g
Arsenic and Bismuth in Qian Mei Cream
Figure 3 — Arsenic contamination signicantly related to bismuth
in Qian Mei Cream
In the linear regression analysis, the r2 of 0.858 was highly signicant, P < 0.01, n = 17
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
sunblock. e three other reported
cases of allergic reaction without
mercury were from beauty shop
creams, and they contained no major
concentrations of metals. In 2011,
one unique cream had 878 μg/g of
cadmium, and three women in the
service industry who had used this
cream complained of dermatitis. at
level is almost 300-fold the Canadian
guideline of 3 μg Cd/g. Cadmium
was undetected in 2015. ASEAN is
apparently evaluating a guideline of
1-3 μg Cd/g in skin creams.
Two samples of fake Enjoy appeared
to have 500 μg/g of antimony, which
is 100-fold the Canadian guideline.
Otherwise, it was rarely found and
had no obvious relationship to
other contaminants. e Canadian
review states “Dermal absorption
of antimony has not been well
studied. Antimony in skin creams
is not currently regulated in ASEAN
guidelines. We are uncertain of the
validity of the XRF measurements
of antimony, but any substance that
exceeds a guideline by as much as a
hundredfold warrants some concern
and validation. e antimony and lead
in fake Enjoy are of academic interest.
Because of the extreme concentration
of mercury (mean 5,989 ± 250 μg/g,
n = 6), we recommend that this
bootlegged version of Enjoy skin
cream be taken o the market.
In 2015 we detected four creams with
more than 30 μg/g of nickel. Cobalt
and chromium are also known to
initiate allergic skin responses. We
did not detect cobalt in skin creams.
However, in 2015, two samples of
creams appeared to contain more
than 150 μg/g of chromium, a known
essential micronutrient which is toxic
at high concentrations.
Assessments of Mercury
Five of 15 samples of urine had higher
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Murphy et al
R² = 0.7006
0 20 40 60 80
Hg µg/g
Sn µg/g
Mercury and Tin in Khmer1 Creams
Figure 4 — Tin contamination signicantly related to mercury
in Khmer1 Creams
Figure 5 — Image of “Enjoy” cream packaging
In linear regression analysis, the r2 of 0.7006 was highly signicant, P < 0.01, n = 14
Note the worn packaging reecting recycling and relling with bootleg cream.
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
levels than the warning level of 20
μg/L Hg required for physicians to
report to the New York Department
of Health (Tab le 3 ). However, one
of the subjects with 25 μg/L Hg in
urine claimed she was not using a
cream with mercury. Interviews are
not always accurate and the data
on urine in the present study is not
strong. e lab detection level of
18 μg/L is barely adequate. ere
was no signicant relationship
between the mercury in creams and
mercury in urine. It would have
been better to calculate the exposure
of mercury via the interviews, but
the experimental design did not
anticipate the frequent inability of
students to ll out the questionnaires.
is area needs considerably more
analysis, including blood analysis, to
gather more information on mercury
bioaccumulation and potential
relationships between mercury and
cases of infection and anemia.
e concentrations of mercury in hair
in our study (Figure 6) were similar
to what Agusa et al. observed in hair
samples in Phnom Penh. e pattern
of mercury in student hair samples
in Figure 6 is quite strong. However,
three of the subjects in Figure 6 had
been using a cream with mercury
for less than two months. No hair
sample represented a growth period
of less than 20 months. Since hair
grows at approximately 1 cm a month,
the longest hair sample represented
growth of about 70 months and no
subjects had used a cream for more
than 24 months. e samples farthest
from the scalp were all beyond the
time frame that students had been
using skin creams. e patterns
observed in mercury concentration do
not represent absorption of mercury
through the skin and excretion into
hair. Rather, it represents surface
contamination that presumably takes
place when the subjects are lying on
their hair while sleeping.
Student Interviews
e most consistent data in the
interviews was the reporting of the
whitening of subjects’ skin, and
presence of rashes or other skin
irritations. We chose to ignore pimples
because they are common and some
organic whitening agents are used
professionally to treat pimples. We
also ignored reports of being tired and
having itchy skin which might warrant
specic questions in interviews. e
new XRF is more sensitive and could
produce a more detailed assessment
of dermatitis. e biggest issues
with interviews were inaccurate and
incomplete data entry. ese mistakes
may possibly reect the concentration
of mercury in creams. In one subset (n
= 72) of the best recorded interviews
on use of the 16 creams with detectable
mercury, 87.5% of respondents made
mistakes in the questionnaire form
responses. For those students using
creams without mercury (n = 55),
only 32.7% made mistakes on the
questionnaire form responses. Any
conclusion that this might reect the
eects of mercury toxicity might be
compromised by students quickly
learning from a display that their
cream was toxic and having their
attention disrupted or intentionally
biasing their report.
Producers of Me One, Ninatop, UCare,
Rojzy Jiali, Hua u Li, and Qian Mei
appear to have stopped using mercury
in their skin-whitening creams.
Interviews with students using the
ai creams in 2011 indicated that the
creams without mercury still whitened
skin. Likely a less toxic organic
whitening agent had been added
or whitening could have reected
use of one of the following white
colouring agents: titanium dioxide,
zinc oxide, barium oxide and bismuth-
oxychloride which were detected
(> 1,000 μg/g) in 75% of creams.
Evaluation of organic whitening
agents that block melanin production
like hydroquinone, retinoic acid or
betamethasone was not possible in
this study. ere are up to 50 such
organic compounds that can suppress
melanin production to whiten skin
and full resolution is not practical for
developing countries.
Murphy et al
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
< 18
Cream Hg µg/g
Urine Hg µg/L
Cream Hg µg/g
Urine Hg µg/L
Table 3 — Mercury in Skin Creams and Urine of Cream Users
e control samples were urine from non-users of skin creams. A urine sample spiked with 246 µg/L of Hg measured as 219 µg/L of Hg.
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
Mercury was the only metal in our
study that was commonly associated
with dermatitis. One Korean face
cream with 878 μg/g of cadmium
produced dermatitis in three
Cambodian users of this cream.
is cream was purchased in Korea
by a tourist and does not represent
most creams in Cambodia. e main
concern with the bootleg Enjoy
product was the high concentration
of mercury, but strangely two samples
of Enjoy had 500 μg/g of Sb while the
mean content of lead in Enjoy was 32
μg/g, which is 100-fold and ve-fold,
respectively, the Canadian guideline.
e linkage with dermatitis was
not assessed in 2015 as the data set
was too small in 2015. A subset of
individuals will be more sensitive and
such responses cannot be assessed in
small samples. For example, 10-20% of
Americans are reported to be allergic
to nickel. In general we found much
higher levels of metals in creams than
a recent study sponsored by the US
Food and Drug Administration.
Further evaluations of dermatitis
with respect to arsenic are warranted.
Unfortunately, in the larger survey,
the XRF analyser was less sensitive
than the second XRF analyzer and
exceedence of guidelines detected in
the second smaller study of arsenic
was not evaluated with respect
to dermatitis. In 2015, three ai
products (UCare, Ninatop, Me
One) and Qian Mei had arsenic
levels that were twice the arsenic
guidelines, while Rojzy Jiali had
six-fold the arsenic guidelines (Tabl e
2). Furthermore, one sample of
Rojzy Jiali in 2014 had 86-times the
guideline for arsenic. Arsenic can
induce reactive oxygen species (ROS)
and overproduction of ROS within
tissues can damage DNA and promote
cancer. 
With respect to ROS generation,
two common major ingredients in
skin creams, zinc oxide and titanium
dioxide, likely have more potential
to induce photo-oxidation than trace
contaminants. Titanium dioxide and
zinc oxide are added to creams to
block ultraviolet (UV) rays by physical
scattering. Some creams in our earlier
analysis contained up to 100,000 μg/g
of zinc and 165,000 μg/g of titanium.
e guidelines in Canada for both
zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are
250,000 μg/g. e European Union
(EU) also allows titanium dioxide at
250,000 μg/g, but currently does not
allow zinc oxide. At times both zinc
oxide and titanium dioxide are also
added without dispersants so that a
whitening eect is achieved (white
coloring, not suppression of melanin
production). Titanium dioxide has
been shown to induce production of
ROS., Similarly, ROS production
has been observed with zinc oxide.
Recently, because of the fear associated
with ROS and cancer, some products
containing titanium dioxide were
voluntarily removed from stores in
California. Cosmetic producers have
used various materials such as silicon
dioxide to coat titanium dioxide, in
part to reduce ROS.,   However,
it is not clear if titanium dioxide in
South East Asia is modied or if XRF
analysis could detect this dierence.
e production of ROS by titanium
dioxide might have special relevance
to the arsenic zone in Cambodia where
more than 100,000 people are at risk
of arsenic poisoning. e use of
titanium dioxide should be evaluated
with respect to potentially greater risks
in people with added arsenic burden.
e same situation with enhanced
arsenic exposure and skin cream use
exists in Vietnam, Bangladesh, India
and other countries. e poorest
people do not use skin creams, but
some farmers have other jobs and in
farming families with money, women
may use such creams. Even though
in the present study titanium dioxide
was not a strong inducer of dermatitis,
in the long-term it could have the
potential to promote skin cancer in
individuals who already have ROS
production due to arsenic exposure.
Any analysis of titanium dioxide in
cosmetic creams in South East Asia
should start with clarication of the
apparent interference of titanium
dioxide by mercury in XRF analysis,
resolution of the high variability
of titanium in XRF analysis, and
assessment of the preparation of
nanoparticles of titanium oxide.
Current Situation
In 2011, only 15% of Cambodians
interviewed knew what mercury was.
Informal interviews in 2015 suggest
little has changed with regard to
mercury awareness. Moreover, some of
the potential health eects of mercury
remain unresolved. Agusa et al. did not
believe that mercury levels measured
in Cambodian sh could be the source
of the high levels in human hair and
that there was an unknown source of
me rcur y.  If Agusa’s hair data reected
skin cream use, their hair data likely
reected surface contamination,
but their blood analyses showing
high levels of mercury must reect
bioaccumulation. e observation of
estrone enhancement associated with
mercury may also indicate a toxic
response, i.e. endocrine disruption.
New problems have also developed.
Sampling via the Internet estimated
that 6% of skin-lightening products
globally contain more than 1,000 μg/g
me rcur y.  e ability to purchase
products on the Internet opens up
new opportunities for producers of
toxic skin-whitening creams. e
chances of buying a counterfeit item
on the Internet is high. e situation
in Cambodia is similar to that in
many developing countries in that
counterfeiting of products including
face creams is common. A survey of
870 retail outlets found more than half
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Murphy et al
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No.9 — December 2015
had at least one counterfeited article.
In 2006, 200 boxes of counterfeit Olay
and Dove cosmetics were found in
Indonesia. In 2010, seven tons of
Cambodian-made fake cosmetics were
discovered by the police in Phnom
Penh. In 2014, Interpol raided a
factory in China producing counterfeit
cosmetics with high levels of
me rcur y.  Such formal conscations
of counterfeit consumer goods
have become more common, but
counterfeit products are still available.
e potential for such products to
be shipped overseas is high. It is
simple for bootleggers to create new
packaging and is not possible for the
average citizen to detect a bootleg
product. A website from Minnesota,
USA shows “Lemon Herbal” in new
packaging and with 10-times higher
levels of mercury (33,000 μg/g) than
found in the present study: http://
Bootlegging of cosmetics is thus a
global problem.
Educational Clinic Benets
e students were very keen to learn
about this issue. ey oen came back
with other creams from their family
and friends, clearly demonstrating
that they had discussed what they had
learned with several people. Moreover,
most students took pictures of creams
with mercury to show their friends
and family. With regard to security,
operating in a university environment
provides some isolation from
producers and marketers of creams.
Directly interfering with the cosmetic
business in public markets might
become confrontational. e intent of
the present was to provide education,
not enforcement. In addition, by
processing products bought by
students, we avoided the problem
of vendors recognizing professional
buyers and selling legal products
instead of the counterfeit versions. We
observed such awareness by vendors
on a few occasions. Another benet
to holding the educational clinics at
the Don Bosco institutes was it was
very easy to get repeat interviews
with students for follow-up. In our
limited assessment of factory workers,
it was very dicult to make follow-up
appointments with clients.
Educational Clinic Limitations
ere were several limitations to the
present study. e students needed
greater supervision on their written
interviews. A greater number of sta
or fewer students may have improved
the output. Weak interviews limited
interpretation of mercury exposure.
Another limitation of the present
study involves incomplete sampling of
the population. It is possible women
working in bars, massage shops and
other occupations may be exposed
to additional types of contaminated
products. e present study was also
limited in its ability to detect a number
of potential toxins. Using any face
cream to whiten skin includes risks
from organic chemicals that cannot
be rapidly screened using XRF metal
analysis. In addition, medical and
Murphy et al
Figure 6 — Hair of users of mercury-contaminated face creams
e distal samples are farthest from the skin.
Journal of Health & Pollution Vol. 5, No. 9 — December 2015 
laboratory services in Cambodia
need further development. Ideally
the mercury content of urine or
blood would be analyzed shortly aer
collection. At the time of the present
study, rapid analysis was not possible
in Cambodia. e advantages of speed
are to minimize storage problems and
to facilitate data interpretation and
health management.
As has been observed with mercury-
containing soaps in Tanzania, the hair
of users of skin-whitening creams
is directly contaminated by surface
contact of the cream with hair. Hair
analysis is a very attractive technique
in that samples can be easily shipped
overseas. It is more dicult to ship
blood or urine. Cambodia currently
lacks the ability to measure metals in
blood. In part this reects political
barriers and fears associated with HIV.
In theory a few labs could measure
metals in blood and urine, but that
is not currently the case. In general,
laboratories in Cambodia suer from
inadequate facilities, poor training and
inadequate funding. For appropriate
management of other potential
sources of mercury, especially in the
oil and gas industry, gold mining,
and traditional Chinese medicines,
Cambodia needs to improve its
analytical capacity.
Cambodia has signed the
Minamata Convention and is
currently considering ratication
of this agreement (http://www. If it is
ratied, Cambodia will be required
to stop production of contaminated
skin creams by 2020. Furthermore,
the illegal importation of mercury
would be halted. As illustrated by
producers of Hua u Li, Ninatop, Me
One, Qian Mei, Rojzy Jiali and Ucare
skin-whitening creams, it is certainly
possible to adapt manufacturing
processes to avoid mercury. However,
currently, some Cambodian producers
of skin creams still use mercury and
bootleggers continues to produce fake
creams with mercury.
Based on the results of the present
study, we recommend that future
studies include specic questions in
interviews on rashes, colored skin
patches, itchy skin, headaches, and
tiredness and that interviews be closely
overseen. Data from groups that can
be interviewed a second time are
more useful for assessing relationships
between mercury exposure and
mercury bioaccumulation in urine
and blood. Assessments of simple
health indicators, such as hemoglobin/
complete blood count (CBC) analysis
would also be useful. Evaluations
of mercury in skin creams should
be conducted in as many regions of
Cambodia as possible to develop a
national database on mercury use in
skin creams.
In addition, eorts should be made
to provide education on the health
risks of unnaturally whitening skin in
pursuit of an articial social construct
of beauty. A lot of money is spent
on cosmetics and the health risks of
using contaminated products are very
Although several cream producers
in Asia appear to have removed
mercury from their creams, mercury
remains the metal of greatest concern
in skin creams. Mercury remains a
common problem in bootleg skin
whitening creams and is commonly
added to creams that are produced in
Cambodia. Mercury is the metal most
likely to induce a skin rash, and 27%
of users of creams with high mercury
content (> 1,000 μg/g) reported
developing a rash. Use of XRF
analysis allows for rapid screening
of mercury in cosmetics and enables
decisive police actions that could stop
the import, export and sales of skin
creams containing mercury.
Funding was supplied by the World
Bank Research Project on Analysis of
Mercury and other Toxic Compounds
in Skin-Whitening Creams Grant: No.
H607-KH to the University of Health
Sciences, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Mrs. Lynn Dudley of the Ministry of
Education provided useful advice on
the World Bank protocols. Ms. eng
Davy, Ms. Chhuon Ratana, Ms. Chin
He Kanika, and Ms. Chhin Sovanndan
of UHS provided assistance in the
laboratory and sample collection. Mr.
David Ford of the Royal University of
Phnom Penh and Dr. Swee Ngin Tan
of Nanyang Technological University
donated chemicals. For the earlier
work, Mr. Stephen Williams and
Mr. Adrian Smith of ermo Fisher
Scientic each loaned handheld X-ray
uorescence analyzers.
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Murphy et al
Mercury Contamination of Skin-whitening Creams in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
... Although not all skin-lightening creams contain substantial amounts of mercury, recent studies showed that mercury is regularly added to such creams. [1][2][3][4] In vitro studies showed that inorganic mercury species such as mercurous chloride (calomel), mercurous oxide, mercuric chloride or ammoniated mercury, which are predominantly used in skin-whitening creams, could penetrate the skin. 5 The case reports associated with skin-lightening creams frequently describe enormous diagnostic difficulties connecting the symptoms to mercury poisoning. ...
... Mercury levels in comparable ranges have been previously reported for skin-lightening creams. 2,4 However, the cream was not advertised as a skin-lightening cream, but for achieving a better skin appearance. According to the manufacturer, the cream has an "immediate effect and success in problems such as: Acne, pimples, facial scars after birth, sunspots, signs after acne, etc." 9 Obviously, mercury was not listed as an "active" ingredient. ...
... The levels found in the mother's hair were higher than what has been previously reported for the use of skin-lightening creams. 4 The patient immediately received oral chelation therapy with 40 mg Dimaval ® (2,3-Dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid) twice per day. His condition improved rapidly and he could be discharged. ...
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We report the severe mercury poisoning of a 4-year-old child by a so far unknown route of exposure, namely, by skin-to-skin contact. The child was admitted to the hospital with episodic pain in his extremities, tachycardia, hypertension, increased sweating, behavioral changes and weight loss. Extensive examinations eventually revealed an acute mercury poisoning. The initial mercury levels were 19 µg/L in urine (reference level 0.4 µg/L) and 37 µg/L in blood (reference level 0.8 µg/L). A facial cream bought online, containing approximately 18% mercury, was identified as the primary source of intoxication. The symptoms improved after disposal of the cream and chelation therapy. Further analyses, home visits and interviews suggested that the child was accidently intoxicated by skin-to-skin contact with the mother, although other routes of exposure such as dust ingestion and surface-to-skin contact cannot be excluded. The mercury levels in urine and blood samples of the child and other family members as well as in domestic dust samples decreased considerably over time.
... Mercury added to cosmetics, especially whitening creams in the form of mercury salt HgNH2CL2 and HgCl2 that functions as a skin whitening agent because it has the potential as a skin color reducing agent with very strong skin Whitening power (Yu et al., 2018. Mercury ions are thought to be able to inhibit the synthesis of skin pigment melamine in melanocytes cells [6]. Other them function to make the face more be white, Mercury is also dangerous heavy metal although small concentration can be toxic. ...
... Thin layer chromatography method is a chromatographic technique that is useful for separation organic compounds. Thin layer chromatography is a simple, cost relative more cheap and easy to operate planar chromatograph technique that have been used an general chemistry laboratories to routinely separate chemical and biochemical [6]. ...
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Mercury is also called “air raksa” or hydrargyrum which is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and belongs to the heavy metal group with a liquid form and silvery color. Mercury is a heavy metal that is harmful to the skin when added to cosmetics, especially creams on the face, even in small concentrations because it is toxic. Identification of Mercury in the laboratory using the thin layer chromatography method with the help of ultra violet light causes medical personnel to be vulnerable to exposure to ultra violet rays which have a negative impact on eye and skin health. The purpose of this research is to design a safety to minimize exposure to ultra violet rays when identify mercury. OV76070 which can reduce direct contact with ultra violet light identifies the present of Mercury in the whitening cream will be carried out using a thin layer chromatography separation method with the help ultra violet 254nm-366nm. With the help of ultra violet lamps 254nm-366nm, and it is hoped that Mercury inspection using the OV7670 camera will be more efficient and accurate. The tool used in this research is the OV7670 camera with a power of 640 – 460 pixels (VGA) to take photo on thin layer chromatography plate, ultra violet lamps 254nm- 366nm. Overall the design of this tool is controlled by the Arduino Uno microcontroller. Image from the OV7670 camera can be monitored at the Liquid Crystal Display in the form of the appearance fluorescence spot indicating the presence of Mercury in the whitening cream sample.
... This endocrine disruption by mercury most likely represented use of skin whitening creams or Chinese traditional medicines. Skin whitening creams are commonly used in Cambodia and can contain up to 3.5% mercury [86]. Skin creams contain several other toxic ingredients [86] and there are general concerns associated with the use of sun block creams. ...
... Skin whitening creams are commonly used in Cambodia and can contain up to 3.5% mercury [86]. Skin creams contain several other toxic ingredients [86] and there are general concerns associated with the use of sun block creams. Sun blocks usually have less mercury, but the use of sun block creams prevents the body from producing vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency also weakens the immune system. ...
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The illegal trade of wildlife in SE Asia has been identified as the likely cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. We reviewed 198 papers on the current COVID pandemic in Cambodia, diseases such as avian influenza and Nipah virus, most likely to develop into a new pandemic in Cambodia, and common features of disease that require mitigation. Artisanal goldmining uses pure mercury in the areas where wildlife is smuggled to China. Moreover, 30–40% of Cambodians are zinc deficient. High levels of arsenic in irrigation water (>1000 µg/L) are associated with very low levels of zinc in rice (5 µg/g) and rice is the primary staple food for the region. Brown rice from nine of 15 paddy fields in the arsenic zone of Cambodia had double the new guidelines of 100 µg/kg inorganic arsenic for children’s food in the EU and USA. The combination of deficiencies of essential micronutrients like zinc and pervasive presence of arsenic and mercury has the potential to compromise the immunity of many Cambodians. Innovative solutions are suggested to improve micronutrient nutrition. Toxins that suppress the immune system must be better managed to reduce the virulence of pathogens. Cambodia was not likely the source of the COVID-19 but does have problems that could result in a new pandemic.
... Statistically significant association was found only for the use of skin creams and soaps but not for other factors, for example, gender, fish consumption, smoking, city of residence, education, etc. Based on this result, we assumed that skin creams and soaps were the source of the extraordinary Hg exposure among Pakistani subjects (Kanwal and Yoshinaga, 2018) because Hgcontaining skin lightning creams have been reported to be used in some countries (Harada et al., 1999(Harada et al., , 2001Olumide et al., 2008;McKelvey et al., 2011;Hamann et al., 2013;Murphy et al., 2015). ...
... Instead, use of skin lightning cream was strongly suspected as the source, which was deduced from statistical analysis results obtained in our previous study (Kanwal and Yoshinaga, 2018), and the present speciation and isotopic analysis results supported it. It is well known that Hg-containing skin care products are available and/or used in some countries (e.g., Harada et al., 1999Harada et al., , 2001Olumide et al., 2008;McKelvey et al., 2011;Hamann et al., 2013;Murphy et al., 2015). Inorganic Hg compounds are used as an ingredient in such skin care products because they are known to suppress melanin production in skin cells by inhibiting tyrosinase activity (Chan, 2011). ...
Speciation and isotopic analyses of mercury (Hg) detected at high concentration (11-107 mg total Hg/kg) in the hair samples of Pakistani subjects were carried out to analyze whether the source of Hg was the skin cream or the soap they used. Liquid chromatography-ICP mass spectrometric speciation analysis revealed that the Hg in the hair was primarily inorganic. This result supported our assumption that skin care products were the source of the high concentration of Hg in hair, which was based on the statistical association found in our previous study because it is known that inorganic Hg compounds are added to some skin care products sold in some countries. Stable isotope ratios of the Hg in the hair samples of 6 subjects and 3 skin cream samples, which were reported to be used by the subjects, were measured by multi-collector ICP mass spectrometry after acid digestion. A comparison of the isotopic compositions of Hg in hair and skin cream in two subjects revealed that the composition in both samples matched in one subject, hence confirming that the products were the source of high Hg concentration in hair. However, the isotopic compositions of Hg in hair and skin cream did not match in the other subject demonstrating the presence of other exposure source(s).
... This study is significant as it would seem that most of the studies on the use of whitening skincare products have focused on their health risks (see Olumide et al.,2008;Murphy et al.,2015) with few focusing on the health risk awareness and perception of these products (especially those advertised as whitening) in such countries as Nigeria where WHO (2011) has found that women use them avidly. It adds to the existing literature on audience/ consumer reception and perception of advertisement. ...
‘Whitevertised’ skincare products are found in such societies as Nigeria where women show reverence for white skin. They are presented using a plethora of advertisement techniques that can make white skin appear desirable. Anchored on social constructionism and selective perception theory, this study aimed to find out how women in Anambra State perceive these products and their awareness of the health risks they can pose. To achieve these objectives, a quantitative approach involving survey was adopted. Data were collected from a random sample of 400 women. Findings showed that these products are prevalent and are used by most of the respondents to ‘maintain’ their skin colour. The study also showed that the perception towards these products varied with age and educational qualification, and was also shown to be influenced by price, place of origin, scientification, celebrity-endorsements and past experiences. In addition, findings from the study showed that the health risk awareness of the risks these products can pose was low among the younger respondents and the least educated. Based on these findings, this study recommended health awareness campaigns targeted at the young and least educated who were shown in this study as most vulnerable.
... Mercury is the metal most likely to induce a skin rash, and 27% of users of creams with high mercury content (> 1,000 μg/g) reported developing a rash. 5 iii. Sunscreen products include those lotions, creams and sprays that protects against harmful effects of UV radiations. ...
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Beauty products are daily need of majority of undergraduate college students. The beauty products are classified as natural (Herbal) and commercial based on their source of origin. The commercial beauty products are made up of chemicals which might also shows side effects on the area where these are applied. Awareness about the chemical composition and their effects on the area where these are applied is required for healthy use. This research paper focuses upon the awareness of beauty products in undergraduate college girls students. This study also considers the variations in settlements, i.e. rural and urban and their preference of various beauty products analyzed through the questionnaire approach.
... Millions of people beyond the US partake of creams and lotions to lighten their skin; although, this practice is not as common stateside. [11][12][13][14] Even so, pharmacologists have long been aware that drugs can be used to temporarily or permanently change human skin color. ...
A pharmacologist walks you through the science underlying the tragic death of Michael Jackson, focusing on the specific pharmacology of every drug documented to be found at the death scene or historically prescribed to Jackson for his personal use. This highly detailed and well-researched analysis offers an easy-to-read explanation drugs Jackson was reported to have used and why, each drug’s mechanism of action and potential toxicity, and a thorough scientific discussion of the drug that caused his premature death. Blending pop culture, forensic autopsy data, police reports and trial transcripts with the fascinating science of pharmacology, this book entertains and informs the reader with precision and unflinching accuracy.
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Generally white color of the skin is regarded as a feature of superiority and prettiness around the world. Both the males and females in Pakistan apply skin-lightening creams (SLC) but they do not know about the side-effects of their constituents. Skin-lightening products include SLC and related ointments. The SLC are made by mixing fates and water in standard procedure. Here, 20 SLC specimens were obtained and subjected to mercury, hydroquinone and the total plate count (TPC). The hydroquinone in SLC was determined using HPLC, mercury level was assessed by ICP OES and finally TPC were computing by utilizing nutrient media (Agar). The hydroquinone in SLC ranged from 0 to 7.14 ± 0.18% with a median value of 0.33%. In 25% of the studied samples, hydroquinone was not detected, 70% of the samples showed values within the limit and 5% of the samples (1 sample) had a hydroquinone concentration above the permissible limit defined by Pakistan (5%). The mercury ranged 0-7.7 ppm, with a median value of 2.5 ppm. Mercury was detected in 95% of the samples; thus, only 5% of the samples had no mercury. In turn, 20% had mercury within the limit value while 75% of the samples had concentration above the Pakistan standard limit (1 ppm). Moreover, TPC obtained in this study was less than the allowable value set according to European Union (EU). Hence, the SLC samples showed high concentration of toxic constituents which could cause deleterious skin diseases. Government must monitor such kind of cosmetic products regularly in order to reduce the danger.
Fetuses are a high-risk group for methylmercury (MeHg) exposure. The main objective of this study was to compare the characteristic profiles of total mercury (THg), inorganic mercury (IHg), MeHg, and selenium in plasma and red blood cells (RBCs) between maternal and cord blood at parturition collected from a group of Japanese women. Furthermore, correlations of THg in RBCs, which is a biomarker of MeHg, and THg in plasma, which is an IHg exposure biomarker, were examined in maternal and cord blood. Fifty-five pairs of maternal and cord blood samples obtained at parturition were collected from pregnant women in Fukuoka, Japan, in 2009. THg in RBCs and plasma were significant correlated between maternal and cord blood. THg in RBCs was 13.9 ng/mL for cord and 9.16 ng/mL for maternal blood, with a cord:maternal RBCs ratio for THg of 1.58, suggesting that MeHg is actively transferred from the mother to the fetus via the placenta. THg in plasma showed a positive correlation with THg in RBCs for maternal and cord blood. This result suggests that measuring THg in plasma can overestimate the exposure level to IHg in fish-eating populations. The percentages of IHg in cord plasma and RBCs were 31% and 1.7%, respectively, and those in maternal plasma and RBCs were 46% and 5.9%, respectively. These results suggest that cord blood is rich in MeHg and can easily transfer to the fetal brain. Selenium in cord plasma was 67 ng/mL and that in maternal plasma was 97 ng/mL, with a cord:maternal plasma ratio for Se of 0.69, suggesting that the protective effects of Se against MeHg toxicity in fetuses may be weaker than those expected in adult mothers.
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Background. Skin bleaching is a major health concern among Jamaicans. A common ingredient in skin lightening products is mercury. Mercury is a toxic substance that can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and kidneys. Objective. The objectives of this study were to use different analytical techniques to measure mercury concentrations in popular skin lightening products used in Jamaica and to assess individual levels of mercury exposure based on product usage. Methods. Sixty skin lightening products were purchased from different vendors across various locations in Jamaica. Each product was initially screened for mercury using a portable handheld energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzer. In addition, 25 out of 60 products were further measured using cold vapor atomic absorption spectroscopy (CVAAS). Questionnaires were distributed to users of skin lightening products to determine their usage patterns. Results. Six products had mercury concentrations above the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowable limit of 1 ppm, of which three products contained alarmingly high concentrations (i.e. > 400 ppm). The majority of products (57 out of 60) had mercury concentrations below 10 ppm. The mercury concentrations in skin lightening products ranged from 0.05 ppm to 17,547 ppm. In our sample, 51% of women and 49% of men used skin products more than once per day. Conclusions. On average, creams contained more mercury than lotions and soaps. Individuals who use skin lightening products in Jamaica may be at risk for high mercury exposure, as some popular products were found to have mercury concentrations above the allowable limit. Competing Interests. The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Technical Report
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1. SCOPE AND APPLICATION The Niton XRF Analyzer XL3T970 can easily be used for screening mercury contamination in cosmetics such as skin whitening creams. Within minutes an operator in a simple laboratory can determine the mercury content and be within 20% of the actual mercury concentration. With additional calibration the XRF analysis can be within a few percent of real mercury values but for the following reasons in developing countries it is best to use the XRF analyzer for screening. 1) Concentrations of mercury in creams commonly are more than a hundred times regulatory limits. 2) To maintain the analysis for more accurate measurement would require more calibration using toxic materials by staff sometimes not adequately trained or equipped. 3) Typically handheld XRF analysis is considered a screening method to be used with confirmatory analysis (AAS, ICPMS etc.) which is difficult to do in Cambodia and similar countries.
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As part of efforts to assess amounts of inorganic element contamination in cosmetics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contracted a private laboratory to determine the total content of seven potentially toxic or allergenic elements in 150 cosmetic products of 12 types (eye shadows, blushes, lipsticks, three types of lotions, mascaras, foundations, body powders, compact powders, shaving creams, and face paints). Samples were analyzed for arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, and nickel by inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry and for mercury by cold vapor atomic fluorescence spectrometry. The methods used to determine the elements were tested for validity by using standard reference materials with matrices similar to the cosmetic types. The cosmetic products were found to contain median values of 0.21 mg/kg arsenic, 3.1 mg/kg chromium, 0.91 mg/kg cobalt, 0.85 mg/kg lead, and 2.7 mg/kg nickel. The median values for cadmium and mercury were below the limits of detection of the methods. The contract requirements, testing procedures, and findings from the survey are described.
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Background. A well-documented source of mercury contamination is skin-whitening cream. The heavy metal is sometimes added to the cream to block production of melanin. Past studies have shown that about one third of skin whitening creams for sale in Phnom Penh contained mercury levels considerably higher than both United States and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) guidelines. Developing nations such as Cambodia do not have the resources for monitoring and enforcement. Objectives. Evaluate the utility of handheld X-ray fluorescence analyzers for detection of mercury in skin-whiteners. Methods. A handheld XRF unit was used to measure the total mercury content of 676 skin-whitening creams collected from volunteers from a cross-section of Phnom Penh's residents. Results. About 16% of bleaching creams collected contained more than 20 ug/g of mercury. The highest concentration was about 35,000 ug/g. A third of the samples that were custom-made or modified by beauty shops contained more than 20 ug/g of mercury. Conclusions. The handheld XRF analyzer proved an excellent tool for screening mercury in skin creams, and could be particularly useful in developing countries because it is relatively inexpensive, requires no sample preparation or extraction, can be used by staff with little technical background, and can facilitate on-site education.
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Until now, the potential effects of titanium dioxide (TiO2) nanoparticles on endothelial cells are not well understood, despite their already wide usage. Therefore, the present work characterizes six TiO2 nanoparticle samples in the size range of 19 × 17 to 87 × 13 nm, which are commonly present in sun protection agents with respect to their physicochemical properties (size, shape, ζ-potential, agglomeration, sedimentation, surface coating, and surface area), their interactions with serum proteins and biological impact on human microvascular endothelial cells (relative cellular dehydrogenase activity, adenosine triphosphate content, and monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 release). We observed no association of nanoparticle morphology with the agglomeration and sedimentation behavior and no variations of the ζ-potential (−14 to −19 mV) in dependence on the surface coating. In general, the impact on endothelial cells was low and only detectable at concentrations of 100 μg/ml. Particles containing a rutile core and having rod-like shape had a stronger effect on cell metabolism than those with anatase core and elliptical shape (relative cellular dehydrogenase activity after 72 h: 60 vs. 90 %). Besides the morphology, the nanoparticle shell constitution was found to influence the metabolic activity of the cells. Upon cellular uptake, the nanoparticles were localized perinuclearly. Considering that in the in vivo situation endothelial cells would come in contact with considerably lower nanoparticle amounts than the lowest-observable adverse effects level (100 μg/ml), TiO2 nanoparticles can be considered as rather harmless to humans under the investigated conditions. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11051-013-2130-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Objectives To describe demographic characteristics, patterns of use, and symptoms associated with mercury poisoning among persons who used aMexican beauty cream containing mercurous chloride and to estimate the prevalence of cream use in Texas near the Mexico border. Design Case series and cross-sectional survey. Setting Border communities ofArizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas. Participants Persons who used the cream and contacted a health department in response to announcements about the cream and households that participated in the Survey of Health andEnvironmental Conditions in Texas Border Counties and Colonias, 1997. Mainoutcome measures Urine mercury concentrations, self-reported symptoms, and prevalence of cream use among households. Results Of 330 cream users who contacted their health department, 96% were women, and 95% were Hispanic.The mean urine mercury concentration was 146.7 μg/L (reference range : 0-20μg/L). In 5% of 2,194 randomly selected Texas households near the Mexico border, at least 1 person had used “Crema de Belleza-Manning”(Laboratorios Vida Natural, S.A., Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico) in the previous year. Conclusions Most cream users had increased urine mercury concentrations. Cream use was common in Texas near the Mexico border.Physicians should consider toxicity in patients with neurologic symptoms of unclear cause and use public health departments when investigating unusual illnesses.
Cosmetic skin lightening is practiced worldwide. Mercury is a well-documented melanotoxin added to some lightening products. However, mercury can cause many dermatologic, renal, and neurologic problems. The Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of mercury in cosmetic products to trace amounts, 1 ppm. The objective of this study was to quantitatively evaluate a large international sample of lightening products for mercury content, focusing on products available to US consumers either online or in stores. A total of 549 skin-lightening products, manufactured in 32 countries, were purchased online in the United States, Taiwan, and Japan and in stores in the United States, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, and Sri Lanka. Cosmetics were screened for mercury content above 200 ppm using a low-cost portable x-ray fluorescence spectrometer. Of the 549 tested products, 6.0% (n = 33) contained mercury above 1000 ppm. In all, 45% of mercury-containing samples contained mercury in excess of 10,000 ppm. Of lightening products purchased in the United States, 3.3% were found to contain mercury in excess of 1000 ppm. Our study did not evaluate creams for other melanosuppressive ingredients. Only 1 sample of each product was tested. Our study confirms the national and global presence of mercury in skin-lightening products.
Mercury is a known cause of nephrotic syndrome and the underlying renal pathology in most of the reported cases was membranous nephropathy. We describe here 4 cases of minimal change disease following exposure to mercury-containing skin lightening cream for 2 - 6 months. The mercury content of the facial creams was very high (7,420 - 30,000 parts per million). All patients were female and presented with nephrotic syndrome and heavy proteinuria (8.35 - 20.69 g/d). The blood and urine mercury levels were 26 - 129 nmol/l and 316 - 2,521 nmol/d, respectively. Renal biopsy revealed minimal change disease (MCD) in all patients. The use of cosmetic cream was stopped and chelation therapy with D-penicillamine was given. Two patients were also given steroids. The time for blood mercury level to normalize was 1 - 7 months, whereas it took longer for urine mercury level to normalize (9 - 16 months). All patients had complete remission of proteinuria and the time to normalization of proteinuria was 1 - 9 months. Mercury-containing skin lightening cream is hazardous because skin absorption of mercury can cause minimal change disease. The public should be warned of the danger of using such products. In patients presenting with nephrotic syndrome, a detailed history should be taken, including the use of skin lightening cream. With regard to renal pathology, apart from membranous nephropathy, minimal change disease should be included as another pathological entity caused by mercury exposure or intoxication.