Both in-store and online – of cosmetics and other personal care products contain mercury.
Despite being a persistent neurotoxin that can cause kidney damage, psychosis, and peripheral neuropathy among other adverse effects, mercury is still used as a preservative in creams designed to lighten skin color. A global industry estimated to be worth $32.1 billion by 2024, skin lighteners and whiteners are marketed almost exclusively to people of color, based on the perpetuation of racist beauty standards, and because of inconsistencies in the labeling of ingredients, many users are unaware that they are applying this highly toxic substance directly to their skin.
“People of color are exposed to disproportionately high levels of toxics, so removing mercury as an ingredient in personal care products is a big win for environmental justice for New York,” said Sonal Jessel, MPH, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, which co-leads the JustGreen Partnership. “We thank Governor Hochul for signing this legislation. We thank the bill sponsors, Senator Samra Brouk and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, for their leadership in getting this through the state legislature. And we thank the JustGreen Partnership and the other organizations and advocates who join us in making this happen.”
“Exposure to mercury can cause rashes and damage to vital internal organs — this life-threatening chemical has no place in our cosmetics. Since mercury salts stop melanin production, mercury poisoning disproportionately impacts women of color using mercury-containing skin-lightening creams in pursuit of colorist beauty standards. I am proud to have worked with Assemblymember Karines Reyes to pass this legislation and am thankful to Governor Kathy Hochul for enacting it to protect New York’s women of color.” – New York State Senator Samra Brouk (D, WF – 55th Senate District)
“Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin – not something people should be applying to their skin. Yet many use skin-lightening creams containing mercury, striving for a Eurocentric beauty model that’s marketed to people of color as aggressively as these products are. And manufacturers have not had to list mercury among the ingredients, and many use different names for it when they do. I am proud to have worked with Senator Samra Brouk on this bill and thank Governor Kathy Hochul for signing it into law.” – New York State Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, R.N. (D – 87th Assembly District)
“New York State has a diverse population of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color who use more personal care cosmetics than their white counterparts, especially those that are marketed toward achieving archaic Euro-centric beauty standards,” said Bobbi Wilding, Executive Director of Clean+Healthy, the state’s leading environmental health organization. “These products, specifically skin lightening creams, are saturated in mercury, a harmful neurotoxin with irreversible effects including changes in hearing and vision, memory problems, and tingling of the hands and feet. Many consumers are unaware of this heavy metal in their personal care products and are unknowingly at risk of the health implications of its use. Thank you to Governor Hochul for signing this bill and to Senator Brouk and Assemblymember Reyes for bringing it forward to protect New Yorkers from this harmful neurotoxin in their everyday products.”
“If mercury is too toxic to allow in our thermostats, our dental products, and the floors in our children’s schools, then it shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near our skincare products. The New York League of Conservation Voters commends Governor Hochul for extending the mercury ban to include cosmetics, and we applaud We Act and all of our counterparts in the Just Green Partnership for their tireless advocacy to get this common-sense measure over the finish line.” – Patrick McClellan, Policy Director at the New York League of Conservation Voters
“Mercury in cosmetics is not only toxic to those who apply these personal care products to their faces and bodies, but is also extremely harmful to our waterways, air, and communities after lipsticks, creams and powders wash off or are thrown away,” said Caitlin Ferrante, Conservation Program Manager, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “We are grateful to the NYS legislature for passing this important legislation to protect New York’s health and environment, and we applaud Governor Hochul for signing S.8291A/A.8630A into law recognizing the vulnerability of so many New Yorkers who unwittingly poison themselves as part of a daily beauty regimen.”
“We applaud the commitment of our state legislators in passing the “Mercury in Cosmetics” bill, and appreciate Governor Hochul for her leadership and long-standing commitment to health care prevention. This important legislation will help New Yorkers who are completely unaware of the negative health impacts of mercury. How exciting that we will now be able to purchase cosmetic products and personal care products without worry or fear of mercury poisoning.” – Kathryn Cappella, President of the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State.
“The business community applauds Governor Hochul for signing this bill into law,” said Bob Rossi, Executive Director of the New York Sustainable Business Council (NYSBC). “Mercury is a neurotoxin with serious, irreversible health implications. Such broad health impacts have long-term economic consequences. Our businesses experience higher employee absenteeism and turnover. The resulting strain on social services affects all taxpayers. We are thrilled to see New York taking this important step to safeguard our health and economy.”
In addition to banning the distribution or sale of cosmetics and other products containing mercury, this law also calls for the establishment of penalties for those who violate it as well as clearer, more consistent labeling of product ingredients for these products.
“By banning the online and in-store sale of these products in New York State, we hope this will lead manufacturers of these products to remove mercury as an ingredient,” added Jessel.
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.