TIME Research

There May Be a Neurotoxin in Your Skin Cream

Hand lotion
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Scientists are finding methods to quickly screen products for unsafe metals

Scientists are ruining everything about your morning routine this week.

First, researchers reported that they had found a way to detect fillers like twigs, wheat, soy and corn in your coffee—a practice that has apparently become more common due to coffee shortages. Now, researchers presenting at the same conference, the annual American Chemical Society, are reporting a new way to filter out metals from skin cream. Yup, that’s right, there’s toxic mercury in some face lotion.

The researchers report that while the U.S. limit on mercury in products is one part per one million, they have found that some face creams contain levels up to 210,000 parts per million. Though some mercury in creams provide a skin lightening effect, which can fade scars and hyperpigmentation, mercury exposure has also been linked to a long list of negative health consequences including headaches, kidney damage and altered cognitive functioning.

In their presentation, the researchers report that by using a new machine that uses a method called total reflection X-ray fluorescence, they can effectively and quickly screen products for mercury. “Using the new instrument, I can run through 20 or 30 samples in a day quite easily. By identifying those products that contain mercury, we can direct people to remove them and clean up their households,” study author Gordon Vrdoljak of the California Department of Public Health said in a statement.

The FDA has warned consumers about mercury exposure from skin cream in the past. You can read tips for how to protect yourself, like reading labels, here.

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