The desire for pale skin in China has come at a detrimental cost to one Nanjing woman, who has been diagnosed with kidney failure after exposure to mercury while using a whitening product for 2 months.
Identified only as Ms. Wang, she was officially diagnosed with “Nephrotic syndrome because of the sudden appearance of unexplained facial and lower extremity edema, oliguria and increased foam in the urine,” reported the Jiangsu Workers’ Union.
30 year old Wang was generally in good health before edema suddenly appeared on her face. In addition, she suffered from constant involuntary eyelid tremors along with other symptoms.
Dr. Zhang Lu, Deputy Director of the Department of Nephrology at the Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, initially suspected beauty products to be the cause of the sudden kidney disease, judging by the immense contrast in colour between her face and her neck. “The patient’s facial skin was white, and her neck colour was in significant contrast”, Zhang said.
After background checks revealed the woman had no prior historical exposure to mercury in her occupation nor in the home, Zhang suspected the culprit could have been a new whitening cream Ms. Wang had recently begun using. A urine test confirmed his suspicions, showing dangerously high levels of mercury.
The manufacturers of whitening cosmetic are said to add mercury to their products because it can destroy the skin’s enzyme activity in the epidermis of the, so melanin can no longer form. According to Skin Whitening News, “The biggest danger of exposing the skin and body to these toxic chemicals is that, over time, they can produce adverse side effects and serious health concerns including skin discolouration, malfunctions of the nervous system and internal organs and an increased risk of cancer”.
As the industry actively discourages people from checking things such as a list of ingredients, the real dangers to women who use skin toning beauty products are too often overlooked. The New York Times’ Catherine Saint Louis highlights, “Dermatologists nationwide are seeing women of Hispanic and African descent, among others, with severe side effects … from the misuse of skin-lightening creams, many with prescription-strength ingredients, which are sold in beauty shops and bodegas and online”.