The Alliance For Natural Health

UN Treaty Bans Mercury! Well, Except in Mascara and Vaccines…


Woman applying makeupSo how do you protect yourself from hidden mercury when it’s not even listed on the label?

In January, we told you about the Minamata Convention, where 140 countries finalized a legally binding treaty to ban the production and trade of mercury-containing products, as well as processes where mercury is released.

At a ceremony in Japan earlier this month, over ninety participating countries signed the final treaty. This did not include the United States, however: the delegation sent to sign the treaty was recalled before the ceremony due to the government shutdown. The US is expected to sign and ratify the treaty at a later date.

ANH-USA supports the treaty’s intent: mercury is a neurotoxin that, in extreme cases, can cause kidney damage, respiratory failure, and death. Environmental mercury contamination is so omnipresent that nearly all people have at least trace amounts of mercury in their tissue. One concern in particular is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative with a highly questionable history. For example, a 2009 study published in the journal Toxicological & Environmental Chemistry found that thimerosal induces neural damage similar to that seen in autism patients—even in low levels.

However, for a treaty whose sole intention is to ban mercury, the Minamata Convention fails to ban mercury from even commonplace sources:

  • Mascara: Mercury—in the form of thimerosal—is sometimes used as a preservative in mascara, although you won’t see it on the label: the FDA does not mandate that ingredients comprising less than 1% of a cosmetic product be listed in labeling. The treaty’s reasoning for not banning thimerosal in mascara? “No effective safe substitute alternatives are available.” But, how can that be, when mercury-free mascara is readily offered on the market? Also, we can’t help but wonder—since the treaty green-lights thimerosal use, and the FDA does not mandate its disclosure in labeling, will conventional cosmetics companies see this is as an opportunity to add mercury to more and more products? Based on publicly available information, it doesn’t seem that many brands sold in the US currently use thimerosal. Again, due to the 1% rule, many products may use it, though there’s just no way for us to know. But with this treaty, that could change for the worse.

  • Vaccines: The final treaty does not ban thimerosal in vaccines. The argument for using this toxic substance in vaccines intended for newborns and infants is that it is used as a preservative for multi-dose injections. Why are multi-doses used? Because the medical authorities in developed countries don’t trust parents to bring their children in more than a few times. The argument for use in developing countries is that constant refrigeration may not be available. But as noted by Dr. Russell Blaylock, multiple vaccines given close together may overstimulate the growing brain’s immune system and destroy brain cells. s the benefit truly worth the risk, especially for newborns and infants?

How could a treaty that took ten years to negotiate sweep such  under the rug? As we saw at Codex, mega-corporations and special interests have incredible influence on international standards and treaties. When it comes to international standards, the question is often not “What’s best for citizens?” but “What’s best for Big Business?”

To illustrate this, take a look at the companies that attended Minamata negotiations: biotech giant DuPont, for instance, which has been fined by the EPA for contaminating our country’s waters with mercury discharge—perhaps they’re not the best candidate to advise on the safe reduction of mercury. Also in attendance was the United States Council for International Business, whose mission is to “devise policies and strategies to influence the global regulatory framework” (AKA lobby delegations at international negotiations). Its members include Monsanto, 3M (which produces processing solutions for cosmetics), and Avon cosmetics—clear beneficiaries of looser mercury regulations.

So, with the Big Business foxes guarding the international regulatory henhouse, and in the absence of transparent labeling, how do you protect yourself from hidden mercury and other dangerous additives?

Generally, educated consumers know what they’re getting with vaccines. But, here are some tips to avoid dangerous chemicals and preservatives in your cosmetics:

  • Avoid Love My Eyes brand by Bari Cosmetics (owned by mega-company Revlon)—it uses thimerosal as a preservative (although at least it discloses this fact in labeling).
  • Don’t just be on the lookout for thimerosal, but other preservatives that may be used to replace it: phenoxyethanol, methylisothiazolinone, parabens (evidence has pointed to its hormone disrupting properties), and formaldehyde releasers (formaldehyde is carcinogenic to humans). Examples of formaldehyde and paraben preservatives include butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben. Formaldehyde preservatives may also be listed as DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15.
  • Try to purchase cosmetics that don’t have synthetic dyes: you can identify these on the ingredient label as anything that starts with “F&DC,” and is followed by a color and number.
  • Say no to siloxanes: avoid ingredients that end in “siloxane” or “methicone,” as this indicates the presence of a suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane).
  • Check out specific products’ safety ratings via the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.
  • Purchase Certified Organic cosmetics and remember—there’s no labeling standard for “natural” and “all natural” products, so beware of false claims on products claiming to be “natural.”
  • Go bare and wear no make-up at all!

When it comes to safe, natural cosmetics, what do you use and recommend? What brands have you discovered to contain questionable chemicals? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Editor’s Note: After receiving feedback from our allies at the Campaign for Mercury Free Dentistry, we have removed references to the treaty’s impact on amalgam fillings. To learn more about this issue, please visit