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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21

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The information on this page is current as of Dec 22, 2023.

For the most up-to-date version of CFR Title 21, go to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR).

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Help | More About 21CFR
[Code of Federal Regulations]
[Title 21, Volume 7]
[CITE: 21CFR700.13]



Subpart B - Requirements for Specific Cosmetic Products

Sec. 700.13 Use of mercury compounds in cosmetics including use as skinbleaching agents in cosmetic preparations also regarded as drugs.

(a) Mercury-containing cosmetic preparations have been represented for many years as skin-bleaching agents or as preparations to remove or prevent freckles and/or brown spots (so-called age spots). Preparations intended for such use are regarded as drugs as well as cosmetics. In addition to such use as skin-bleaching agents, mercury compounds have also been widely used as preservatives in cosmetics such as hand and body creams and lotions; hair shampoos, hair sets and rinses, hair straighteners, hair coloring, and other preparations; bath oils, bubble bath, and other bath preparations; makeup; antiperspirants and deodorants; and eye-area cosmetics.

(b) The toxicity of mercury compounds is extensively documented in scientific literature. It is well known that mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the unbroken skin as well as through the lungs by inhalation and by intestinal absorption after ingestion. Mercury is absorbed from topical application and is accumulated in the body, giving rise to numerous adverse effects. Mercury is a potent allergen and sensitizer, and skin irritation is common after topical application. Cosmetic preparations containing mercury compounds are often applied with regularity and frequency for prolonged periods. Such chronic use of mercury-containing skin-bleaching preparations has resulted in the accumulation of mercury in the body and the occurrence of severe reactions. Recently it has also been determined that microorganisms in the environment can convert various forms of mercury into highly toxic methyl mercury which has been found in the food supply and is now considered to be a serious environmental problem.

(c) The effectiveness of mercury-containing preparations as skin-bleaching agents is questionable. The Food and Drug Administration has not been provided with well controlled studies to document the effectiveness of these preparations. Although mercurial preservatives are recognized as highly effective, less toxic and satisfactory substitutes are available except in the case of certain eye-area cosmetics.

(d) Because of the known hazards of mercury, its questionable efficacy as a skin-bleaching agent, and the availability of effective and less toxic nonmercurial preservatives, there is no justification for the use of mercury in skin-bleaching preparations or its use as a preservative in cosmetics, with the exception of eye-area cosmetics for which no other effective and safe nonmercurial preservative is available. The continued use of mercurial preservatives in such eye-area cosmetics is warranted because mercury compounds are exceptionally effective in preventing Pseudomonas contamination of cosmetics and Pseudomonas infection of the eye can cause serious injury, including blindness. Therefore:

(1) The Food and Drug Administration withdraws the opinion expressed in trade correspondence TC-9 (issued May 13, 1939) and concludes that any product containing mercury as a skin-bleaching agent and offered for sale as skin-bleaching, beauty, or facial preparation is misbranded within the meaning of sections 502(a), 502(f)(1) and (2), and 502(j), and may be a new drug without approval in violation of section 505 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Any such preparation shipped within the jurisdiction of the Act after January 5, 1973 will be the subject of regulatory action.

(2) The Food and Drug Administration withdraws the opinion expressed in trade correspondence TC-412 (issued Feb. 11, 1944) and will regard as adulterated within the meaning of section 601(a) of the Act any cosmetic containing mercury unless the cosmetic meets the conditions of paragraph (d)(2) (i) or (ii) of this section.

(i) It is a cosmetic containing no more than a trace amount of mercury and such trace amount is unavoidable under conditions of good manufacturing practice and is less than 1 part per million (0.0001 percent), calculated as the metal; or

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