Skin lightening

The Minneapolis Health Department is seeking to reduce the use of dangerous skin lightening products through education.


We are providing education and outreach about the dangers of skin lightening products and practices.

We plan to:

  • Reduce the use of skin lightening products and practices for people most impacted.
  • Reduce exposure to their families while also offering safe disposal options.
  • Educate licensed and unlicensed retail stores that sell these products.
  • Decrease consumer access to these products.

Who we are helping

We are focused on helping people in Minneapolis who are:

  • Retailers
  • Young people ages 14-19
  • Parents and families of young people
  • East African, Latinx, and South East Asian communities

Skin lightening practices and products


Skin lightening products are sold under the belief that lighter skin is beautiful. These products contain chemicals that reduce the production of melanin. Melanin is what causes pigmentation in your skin.

Skin lightening practices are direct results of colorism, racism, and discrimination

  • Colorism: a form of discrimination that is also a product of racism in the US, where lighter-skin individuals are treated more favorably than darker-skin individuals. Colorism upholds the white standards of beauty and benefits white people in the institutions of oppression, such as in the media, healthcare, etc.
  • Racism:  Discrimination that systemically oppresses people of color based on their racial, ethnic, or religious affiliation.
  • Discrimination: The unjust acts done an individual or group based on their social status, regardless of their social power. Anyone can experience discrimination.


Skin lightening products include:

  • Creams
  • Powders
  • Soaps
  • Injectables
  • Deodorants
  • Face washes

Dangers of skin lightening

Dangerous chemicals 

Many skin lightening products contain dangerous chemicals such as:

  • Hydroquinone: An agent that decreases production of and increases the breakdown of melanosomes in melanocytes. Melanosomes are what produces melanin, the pigment causing agents in our skin.
  • Steroids: Anti-inflammatory drugs that have the potential to cause the skin to thin as well as inhibit melanocytes.
  • Mercury: Chemical element that inhibits the formation of melanin, which causes one to have a lighter skin tone.

Dangerous amounts 

The amounts of harmful ingredients found in skin lightening products are illegal to sell in the United States and are usually thousands of times past the legal limit. Important facts to know:

  • Anything above 1ppm (part per million) of Hg content is banned in the US as of 2007.
  • MN Statue 116.92 states that a person may not sell, offer to sell, or distribute, products containing mercury.
  • Products containing harmful ingredients ranging from 31ppm – 54,000ppm, are currently found in homes and retail businesses.
  • Harmful skin lightening ingredients can cause skin damage and can also affect your nervous system, kidneys and other aspects of your health.
  • If you are using these products you may notice symptoms such as a rash, swelling in your limbs, tingling sensations, shaking, weight loss, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and memory loss.

Mercury exposure through contact

Exposure to mercury from skin lighting products has dangerous effects. Mercury can affect fetal development and can also easily pass into the brain of developing children, causing more detrimental effects in the nervous system. You may get exposed to mercury through primary contact or secondary contact.

Primary contact

  • Dermal (Skin) Absorption
    Mercury in skin lightening products that are applied directly to the skin
  • Inhalation (Breathing)
    When the lid of a product containing mercury is removed, mercury vapors are released into the air. This type of exposure is common with skin lightening products and is the greatest exposure to vaporous mercury.

Secondary contact 

  • Indirect contact with mercury through someone who has been in direct contact
  • Mother-Infant Contact
    • Can pass from mother to child through the placenta
    • Breastfeeding
    • Contact with mother that uses skin lightening products

Take action


  • If you are currently using these products, stop immediately. If you stop using skin lightening products, your body can eventually rid itself of the mercury.
  • Be sure to check the label of the product you are using. Mercury can be listed as “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurous,” or “mercurio.” 
  • Do not use skin lightening products if the label says to avoid contact with jewelry, if the label does not list ingredients or is in a language that you cannot read.
  • Do not throw the products away as the harmful ingredients could enter the environment through water or land and continue to poison people. Instead, bring the products to a City hazardous waste site where you can safely dispose of them for free. 

Find your local household hazardous waste site


  • If you are currently selling these products, stop selling immediately.
  • Contact the City to dispose of the products safely. You will not receive any sort of ticket or violation for calling the City. We want to help you get reimbursed and dispose of the products safely.
  • Stay connected to this page to learn how the Minneapolis Health Department is developing a buyback program to provide reimbursement for these products (more information coming soon).

Contact us

Minneapolis Health Department




Public Service Building
505 Fourth Ave. S., Room 520
Minneapolis, MN 55415