Background. Skin lightening is very popular among women and some men of the Caribbean, and its popularity appears to be growing. The lightening of skin colour is done to produce a lighter complexion which is believed to increase attractiveness, social standing and improves one’s potential of being successful.
Design and Methods. Fifteen (15) common skin lightening creams found in pharmacies and cosmetic retailers throughout Trinidad and Tobago were evaluated for Mercury by Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (CVAAS) and Arsenic by Hydride Generation Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (HGAAS). The results obtained were compared to global standards and previous research.
Results. Fourteen (14) of the fifteen samples analysed contained Mercury in the range of 0.473 μg/g to 0.766 μg/g. One sample had a Mercury content of 14,507.74±490.75 μg/g which was over 14,000 times higher than the USFDA limit for mercury in cosmetics of 1 μg/g. All samples contained Arsenic in the range 1.016 μg/g to 6.612 μg/g, which exceeds the EU limit for cosmetics of 0 μg/g.
Conclusions. All the samples analysed contained significant amounts of Mercury and Arsenic and none of them can be considered safe for prolonged human use. The samples that contained Mercury levels which were lower than the USFDA limit contained Arsenic levels which exceeded the EU standard of 0 μg/g in cosmetics. The popularity of these skin lightening creams in the Caribbean region places the population at elevated risk of chronic Mercury and Arsenic poisoning and possibly acute Mercury Poisoning.