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Mercury in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products


Some cosmetic products use mercury to reduce the appearance of dark spots and blemishes, and to lighten skin. However, mercury has a high absorption rate that can quickly damage skin and organs. According to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the skin from topical applications and accumulate in the body, giving rise to numerous adverse effects. Further, FDA has stated that the effectiveness of mercury-containing preparations as skin-bleaching agents is questionable.

On December 23, 2022, the Governor signed into law a bill that prohibits the sale or any cosmetic product or personal care product containing mercury. The law amended section 37-0117 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) and takes effect June 1, 2023. Under ECL 37-0117 (8), "No person shall sell or offer for sale any cosmetic product or personal care product containing mercury, other than in trace amounts identified by the department, in consultation with the department of health, in regulations.

Any such trace amounts shall be consistent with the permissible concentrations of trace amounts allowed by the FDA as:

  1. unavoidable under conditions of good manufacturing practice, or
  2. necessary for use as a preservative in the absence of an effective and safe nonmercurial preservative substitute in cosmetic products intended for use only in the area of the eye."

The Department is considering steps it will take to implement the law.

FDA Regulations

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act defines cosmetic as, "(1) articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body or any part thereof for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance, and (2) articles intended for use as a component of any such articles; except that such term shall not include soap" (Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 USC § 321(i)).

FDA regulations on the use of mercury compounds in cosmetics can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) under 21 CFR 700.13.

Under FDA's regulations, the permissible concentration of trace amounts of mercury in a cosmetic product that is unavoidable under conditions of good manufacturing practice are less than 1 part per million (0.0001 percent), calculated as the metal (elemental).

For cosmetic products intended for use only in the area of the eye, FDA allows no more than 65 parts per million (0.0065 percent) of mercury, calculated as the metal, as a preservative, provided there is no effective and safe nonmercurial substitute preservative available for use in such cosmetic.

Read more information on FDA's regulation of cosmetics. (Link leaves DEC's website)


DEC will be conducting outreach to educate stakeholders on their obligations under this law, and to inform the public as we move forward with implementation of this law.

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