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Toxicity of mercury and hydroquinone in skin lightening products: popular practice in non-white communities

Polynice, Vania Marie (2024) Toxicity of mercury and hydroquinone in skin lightening products: popular practice in non-white communities. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The use of skin lightening products (SLPs) containing mercury (Hg) and hydroquinone (HQ) is a worldwide practice among non-white communities. The practice is rooted in historic colonialism and enslavement. Skin whitening is seen by many as a convenient tool for idealization of European beauty standards and overcoming barriers to social and economic mobility, as a matter of colorism. The use of Hg and HQ in SLPs can have potentially harmful effects on human health. Studies have shown that SLPs containing Hg and HQ can cause a range of adverse health effects, including skin irritation, pigmentation changes, and systemic toxicity. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to the development of serious health conditions such as renal dysfunction, neurological disorders, and even skin cancer. Furthermore, the adverse health effects of these products are not limited to the users themselves, as non-users who come into contact with contaminated surfaces or air may also be at risk. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of these chemicals.
Despite efforts to regulate the use of Hg and HQ in SLPs, these products are still widely available on e-commerce, local beauty stores, and used in many countries. The prevalence of counterfeit products from illegal and non-regulated laboratories further exacerbates the problem, as these products may contain even higher levels of these harmful chemicals. This literature review examines the existing research on the adverse health effects of Hg and HQ in SLPs, with a focus on their prevalence and impact on users and non-user household members.
In conclusion, the use of SLPs containing Hg and HQ is a widespread and concerning practice. It can have adverse health impacts on both user and non-user household members. Despite these risks, the practice persists in many regions, reflecting the influence of societal beauty standards and cultural beliefs. However, there is a growing awareness of the potential health risks associated with these products, and efforts are being made to educate consumers and regulate the industry.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Polynice, Vania Marievmp33@pitt.eduvmp33
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBarchowsky, Aaronaab20@pitt.eduaab20
Committee MemberDeslouches, Berthonytdesl19@pitt.edutdesl19
Committee MemberBortey-Sam, Nestaneb60@pitt.eduneb60
Committee MemberNg,
Date: 2 January 2024
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 9 November 2023
Approval Date: 2 January 2024
Submission Date: 14 December 2023
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 68
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Public Health > Environmental and Occupational Health
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Inorganic mercury and skin lightening, Hydroquinone and skin lightening, mercury and hydroquinone in skin lightening and adverse health effects, skin bleaching, skin whitening.
Date Deposited: 02 Jan 2024 16:51
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2024 16:51


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