Maybe She's Born With It...Maybe it's Mercury: Eye Makeup Excluded from Treaty Banning Mercury

We might be putting toxic substances near our eyes, all in the name of beauty. Last week, about 140 countries signed the United Nations’ Minamata Convention, which includes a ban on mercury in cosmetics and soaps. The convention does not include mascara and other eye makeup because “no effective safe substitute alternatives are available” and “the intention is not to cover cosmetics, soaps, or creams with trace contaminants.”

You may ask, why is there mercury in mascara? It is used as a preservative and germ killer and allowed by the USDA at up to 65 parts per million, according to the Scientific American. It’s also a potent neurotoxin that can cause serious adverse neurological effects, kidney damage, and, for pregnant women, lower concentrations can disrupt the brain of a developing fetus. No scientific studies have examined exposures or effects from the low concentrations found in mascara or other eye makeup.


How prevalent is this issue? According to Scientific American, The Personal Care Products Council (the trade group for the cosmetics industry) is not aware of any manufacturers using mercury in mascara, says the group’s chief toxicologist. But according to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group, six mascara and two eyelash makeup manufactured by Bari Cosmetics, Ltd. (whose parent company is Revlon) under the Love My Eyes brand contain thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative.

Most importantly, as reported by Environmental Health News, “The FDA does not require ingredients that comprise less than 1 percent of a cosmetic product to be divulged on the label, so a lot more products may have thimerosal and consumers would never know, said Kristin Adams, chief executive officer of Afterglow Cosmetics.”

Check out our post ‘Updating Your Cosmetic Knowledge‘ for tips on how to find makeup that is free of toxins and chemicals. We also have a ready made list of 10 chemical and cruelty free mascaras. Pick any of them and you won’t need to worry about any mercury contamination!

Image Source: Sergio Fabara Muñoz/Flickr