A health warning has gone out to Barbadians about the possible danger of exposure to mercury which may be associated with the use of some types of skin bleaching creams.

This caution has come from the Ministry of Health in the wake of concerns raised by researchers from the University of Laval, Quebec, Canada.

They conducted a Caribbean Eco-health Project which sought to evaluate mercury exposure from fish consumption among a sample of persons from within a fishing community in Barbados. This was done by measuring trace amounts of mercury in hair and urine.

The study revealed higher than average levels of mercury in the hair and urine of four of the 50 participants. Further investigations into the lifestyles of the affected individuals suggested that the above average levels of mercury which were detected had not resulted from fish consumption, but that the most probable exposure had been from use of bleaching creams.

Mercury is a heavy metal which is known to be poisonous when it enters the body. Skin bleaching creams which contain mercury should not be used for long periods of time since this element can start accumulating in the cells of the body.?? According to the Ministry of Health, too much mercury exposure could lead to liver damage and kidney failure. Noting that most over-the-counter bleaching creams were generally recommended for short-term use, with some stipulating a period not exceeding four weeks, the Health Ministry has advised individuals against using bleaching creams on large areas of the skin and for prolonged periods of time.????

A recent fad popularised by some entertainers, has seen increasing numbers of young people in the Caribbean using bleaching creams to obtain lighter complexions.

The health authorities are further warning Barbadians that, in addition to containing mercury, skin bleaching creams may have as ingredients hydroquinone, benzoyl peroxide, and hydrogen peroxide.?? These chemical compounds can cause serious side effects when used inappropriately and, should therefore, only be used as directed by the manufacturer.

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