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Fairness creams linked to increased kidney problems, study says health news


Driven by society’s obsession with fair skin, skin fairness creams have a lucrative market in India However, a large amount of mercury in these creams is known to damage the kidneys.

The study, published in the medical journal Kidney International, found that increased use of high-mercury fairness creams is driving cases of membranous nephropathy (MN), which damages kidney filters and causes protein leakage.

MN is an autoimmune disease that causes nephrotic syndrome—a kidney disorder that causes excessive protein excretion in the urine.
“Mercury is absorbed through the skin, and causes damage to the kidney’s filters, thereby increasing the incidence of nephrotic syndrome,” researcher Dr. Sajeesh Sivadas, Department of Nephrology, Aster MIMS Hospital, Kottakkall, Kerala, wrote in a post on

“These creams, widely available in India’s unregulated market, promise quick results, but at what cost? Users often describe a nagging addiction, as discontinuing use makes the skin darker,” he added.

The study examined 22 cases of MN reported between July 2021 and September 2023.

Patients presented at Aster MIMS Hospital with symptoms that were often subtle with fatigue, mild edema and increased urination. Only three patients had gross edema, but all had elevated protein levels in the urine.

One patient had cerebral vein thrombosis, a blood clot in the brain, but renal function was preserved in all cases.

The study found that about 68 percent of the 22, or 15, were positive for neural epidermal growth factor-1 protein (NELL-1), a rare form of MN that is more likely to be associated with malignancy.

Of the 15 patients, 13 were admitted using the skin fairness cream before the onset of their symptoms.

Of the remainder, one had a history of using traditional indigenous medicine and the other had no identifiable trigger.

“Most cases resolved by discontinuing the use of the stimulating cream. This poses a potential public health risk, and it is essential to spread public awareness about the risks of using such products and alert health authorities to prevent this danger,” the researchers said in the paper.

Dr Sajeesh blamed social media influencers and actors for “championing these creams” and “perpetuating their use in a multibillion-dollar industry”.

“It’s not just a skin care/kidney health issue; This is a public health crisis. And if mercury can cause such damage when applied to the skin, imagine the effects of ingestion. It is time to take immediate action to control these harmful products and protect public health,” he said.