Potential health consequences of applying mercury-containing skin-lightening creams during pregnancy and lactation periods

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2016 Jul;219(4-5):468-74. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2016.03.002. Epub 2016 Mar 14.


Many studies have highlighted the widespread use of skin-lightening creams containing mercury by women during and after pregnancy to remove dark spots. Women, especially pregnant and lactating mothers using these products are at risk of mercury poisoning because sometimes it has no clinical symptoms, particularly during early exposure. Studies have shown that prenatal and postnatal mercury exposure can cause permanent neurological damage in children. Furthermore, mercury can cause women infertility and birth defects. Even though several studies have examined the reproductive and/or developmental consequences of gestational and lactational mercury exposure from fish consumption and/or dental amalgam, no studies have assessed the possible effects of the long-term use of mercury-containing skin-lightening products by women of childbearing age on their pregnancy outcome and children's health. This commentary aims to collate information on the popular use of mercury-containing skin-lightening creams and sheds the light to the readers about the limitations of the available data on its impact during a prenatal and/or postnatal period. There is an urgent need to assess the adverse health effects of applying these products during pregnancy or lactation on child growth and development through birth cohort studies. Until data from these studies are available, women should be advised not to use topical skin-lightening creams during pregnancy and lactation.

Keywords: Lactation; Mercury; Pregnancy; Reproductive toxicity; Skin-lightening creams; Women.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Government Regulation
  • Humans
  • Lactation
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Mercury / standards
  • Mercury / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Skin Lightening Preparations / analysis
  • Skin Lightening Preparations / standards
  • Skin Lightening Preparations / toxicity*


  • Skin Lightening Preparations
  • Mercury