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April 6, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Is my BB cream giving me mercury poisoning?

So I've been using this product as a foundation for the past few months, after upgrading from some cheapo covergirl product that made my skin oily in my t-zone and flaky everywhere else (not a good look). However, I recently came across this article, and I am now worried about my wonderful Korean-made BB cream that makes my skin look passably smooth and evens out some of the redness.

The article says to look for ingredients that contain mercury, and that if there are no ingredients, that's also bad. There are no ingredients to be found anywhere on the bottle. Should I do the safe thing and switch to something else?
posted by shipsthatburn to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total)
The mercury is found in skin lightening creams. I doubt your Korean BB cream is a skin lightening cream. There's no reason for mercury to be in a BB, which is a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, propylene glycol (for plumping), and benzyl salicyclate (for anti-acne and making pores look smaller).
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2012

If your BB cream advertises "whitening" it might be something to worry about. I am so pale myself that I forget that some of them are marketed as "whitening". Otherwise, there's no reason for it to have mercury in it, and mercury is fairly expensive compared to the other stuff so they're not going to put mercury in one that isn't supposed to do whitening.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2012

According to this article, some Asian BB creams do contain lightening ingredients.

Companies in the Western market have "discovered" BB creams and there's a proliferation of them coming out this season, so you should have many other alternatives available.
posted by matildaben at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2012

Sorry I am so disjointed today. Here is my last comment: skin brightening isn't the same as skin whitening. BB creams that advertise "skin brightening" have little sparkly bits in along with the tint to make your skin look a little sparkly. Only the skin whitening creams would be candidates for possibly including mercury.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2012

My google-fu found this webpage that lists ingredients of another Skin79 BB cream, although it's not the exact one that you're using. But most likely the ingredients aren't terribly different.
posted by erstwhile at 1:05 PM on April 6, 2012

The Garnier BB cream they sell at the drugstore for $12.99 is just fine, although it only comes in two shades which really only work for white ladies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2012

Well, first off, that Forbes article doesn't mention BB creams, it's talking specifically about skin lighteners.

The BB in BB cream stands for blemish balm. Back in they day it was a sunblock+color corrective+healing cream that you got from your dermatologist post laser treatment on your face or other peels or treatments that left your skin raw and sensitive to the sun, and also to help quicken healing. It wasn't for skin lightening, since such thing would be a big no no for skin raw after peeling treatments.

The Korean celebrities and others soon realized one of the good "side effects" was that BB creams made for really effective tinted moisturizers that gave more coverage than regular tinted moisturizers and also was good for your skin.

Back in the day there was only Dr. Jarts and a few other more dermatological brands, even in Korea, but as it's gotten popular, there's been a proliferation of BB creams produced by cosmetics companies and there are many types touting many different additional effects from the original use and formulations of original BB creams. I'm sure there are some BB creams+skin lightening out there, but unless the one you bought specifically is marketed as one of those, BB creams are not the same thing as skin lighteners.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:25 PM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

kkokkodalk said it all. And do not worry that they are going to have sneaked skin-lightening mercury compounds into your BB cream that doesn't advertise skin lightening--they're not going to do that, not because of consumer safety issues, but because that stuff is expensive and they would want to get the full bang for their buck from it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2012

It does advertise whitening: "The BB Cream has triple functions of whitening, anti-wrinkle and more intensively protects exposed skin by blocking UV ray A and B. Abundant nutrition of Gold and Caviar extract c."

"Whitening" is also the first line of text on the bottle itself, above "uv protecting" and "wrinkle improvement."

I'm confused now about whitening versus lightening. From what I can gather from the comments thus far, lightening products may contain mercury, but whitening products are fine? And I don't even understand the difference between lightening and whitening; if you're making something lighter, you're making it whiter, and vice versa.
posted by shipsthatburn at 2:00 PM on April 6, 2012

Well the problem is there's a lot of Korean (and Asian) products that promise lightening or whitening (미백 urg, Asian "lighter skin" baggage), but that doesn't always mean they use dangerous ingredients like mercury, or hell that it even really "whitens" skin. You might see a small difference like evening skin tone, but it's tough to say what a cosmetic company is advertising will really deliver in any large or noticeable way. Now whether or not to trust the label is entirely up to the consumer and whatever product approval apparatus a country has in place. Another thing to keep in mind is usually products that use dangerous chemicals like mercury aren't exactly above the board products. So this is honestly a buyer beware situation.

My previous comment was just to explain that BB Creams as a product group are not the same thing as skin whitening/lightening products. You can buy jars of skin whiteners and lighteners, both shady and not all over Asia. Hell, I bought a tube of Clean and Clear brand "skin whitening" facial mask in Thailand with charcoal-based purifiers, and that's a big name American company. I doubt they were pumping that full of mercury. Acuvue makes their version circle lenses just for the Asian market because that's a thing there despite all the scare stories you read about no name circle lenses making you go blind and whatnot. It's just too tough to say. It's like how you can have regular lipstick, but also a moisturizing lipstick. As an extreme example, if a warning from the FDA came out tomorrow that urban legends are true and lip moisturizers have crushed glass in them to keep you hooked, that doesn't mean all lipsticks, or even lipsticks marketed as moisturizing, have crushed glass in them.

I can only speak from secondhand experience since I'm too dark to use any BB Creams out on the market at all, but I can only speak from my experience using Korean cosmetic products that are not BB creams and from experiences of friends in and from Korea who have used a wide variety, including SKIN 79, BB Creams. This is neither an endorsement nor condemnation, simply more info if you are nervous, since I'm not sure how much info you can get from English sources (though I think Skin79 has a North American exporting branch):

Skin79 is actually name brand cosmetic in Korea that's been producing BB creams for a couple of years now and considered one of the original mass market BB cream makers (at least a good 5-6 years). They're a totally cosmetic brand, which is why you notice they don't call themselves a Blemish Balm but a "Bebelish Balm" since the story is you actually need dermatological certification to be able to use the former, and the latter is a way to get around it and still use the trendy "BB" in BB Cream. The more likely story probably is probably it's somewhere between being unable to market themselves as an actual dermatological product and licensing issues.

I even did a search for you in Korean for more info, and Skin79 BB cream you are using now (and they several versions) touts its main whitening agent as arbutin. Your Skin79 Super is kind of a supercharge whole package which is UV blocking, whitening, as well as supposedly helping with wrinkles and skin elasticity with other main ingredients like sweet almond oil, madecassoside, cava extract, 마치현 ("Machihyun" or portulaca oleracea) extract, sunflower, rice hull, ivy, green tea, and adenosine. Along with gold and caviar (yea, dunno what that's about besides probably a way to jack up the price for a "premium" version of their original product). This is the only info I can find on the ingredients that names anything specific, unless it came with one of those slips of paper that has more info/details/additional ingredients, which I will be more than happy to read for you.

If there's mercury in it there's really no other way to find out and I haven't seen any huge scandals or news stories break about it even in the Korean media regarding Skin79 products. Considering how popular BB Creams have been in Korea for a good couple of years now, if there was any inkling of something dangerous in their products, it has yet to come up. All I can find are trend stories about how popular and saturated the BB Cream market is dating back to 2007.
posted by kkokkodalk at 3:59 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it is whitening, then it could have mercury. Whitening and lightening are the same--it's brightening that's different (sparkly bits instead of skin bleaches).

Throw it out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2012

I mean, kkokkodalk is right that it probably doesn't have mercury in it, but you're going to stress about it, so the peace of mind must be worth the $10 - $30 to replace it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:02 PM on April 6, 2012

I disagree that whitening and lightening are the same. My belief is that "whitening" and "brightening" are interchangeable terms for similar commercial beauty products in different markets. In Asia, ever since I can remember, mainstream brands like Estee Lauder, Clinique, Elizabeth Arden, Bobbi Brown, SK II, L'Oreal etc. will trot out whole ranges of whitening skin care products every summer, when they bring out self-tanners and bronzers in the West. Contrary to what Jezebel thinks, "whitening" is not necessarily skin bleaching to achieve a Caucasian compexion, whatever that is. Asian women are more prone to hyperpigmentation (melasma), and whitening products really aim to address that problem slowly and gently. Those of us with darker complexions know that "whitening" products will never give us Snow White skin, but will help to even out our skintone.

In recent years, it seems to me that Asian skincare practices, like the BB cream phenomenon, is gradually trickling into the West, but the word "whitening" may not appeal to (or may simply offend) predominantly Caucasian consumers in the US, or the term itself may be legally problematic, so I think "brightening" is used instead. For example, check out this SKII product on the Taiwanese website and the same product on the US website--the former says "Whitening Spots Specialist" on the bottle, but the American one reads "Brightening Derm Specialist". Also, Estee Lauder has a Cyber White brightening range in Asia, but the closest you can get in the US is the Illuminator Even Skintone range. In these products, the whitening/brightening ingredients are usually gentler exfoliants like Vitamin C, fruit acids/enzymes and whatever patented miracle super ingredient the lab has cooked up.

Skin lightening or bleaching products, on the other hand, are way more aggressive, and usually specifically target severe scarring with ingredients like kojic acid or hydroquinone. The latter is a bit scary, because you're not supposed to use it for more than three months each time, and definitely not without the supervision of a medical professional.

I think you can go on using your BB cream, but I would definitely check to see where it is manufactured. South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore are R&D hubs with pretty strict regulations, so I would trust any cosmetic product manufactured in those countries. But if that doesn't allay your fears, companies with huge reputations to protect like Clinique, Bobbi Browm Estee Lauder and Dior all have come up with their own BB creams.
posted by peripathetic at 4:06 PM on April 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a site that lists ingredients for some cosmetics, including Skin79, and here's the page for your brand.

I can't vouch for the provenance of the site, but it looks like they are getting ingredients lists from somewhere. The entry dates are between 2007 - 2011, which I'm assuming corresponds with when each variation entered the market.
posted by taz at 5:51 AM on April 7, 2012

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