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Global Ban on Mercury Exempts Mascara and Eye Makeup

Health + Wellness

Mercury was banned in cosmetics and soaps by a recently signed global treaty at the Minamata Convention. But mascara and other eye makeup were exempted.

Mercury is used in trace amounts in eye makeup as a preservative. The treaty exempts eye area cosmetics from the list because “no effective, safe substitute alternatives are available,” according to the signed treaty.

Trace amounts of mercury are used in mascara as a preservative.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The Minamata Convention for Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury and is designed to limit mercury use and emissions internationally. The treaty was agreed to on Oct. 10 after four years of negotiations and was signed by delegates of about 140 nations.

The United Nations Environment Programme says the intent of the ban is to eliminate cosmetics like skin-lightening cream and others that contain large concentrations of mercury and have been shown to cause kidney damage in women. 

Joanna Tempowski, a scientist for the World Health Organization’s International Program on Chemical Safety told Environmental Health News that mercury is added to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that could infect and damage the eye, noting that “the risk-benefit analysis favors the use of these preservatives.”

The Food and Drug Administration allows mercury in eye cosmetics at concentrations of up to 65 parts per million. 

Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Database provides practical solutions for people to protect themselves and their family from everyday exposures to chemicals. Environmental Working Group launched Skin Deep in 2004 to create online safety profiles for cosmetics and personal care products on more than 78,000 items.

Mascara brands without mercury sometimes use other harmful preservatives, such as formaldehyde (a carcinogenic) or parabens (which may be linked to hormone disruption), according to the database.

Want to find some chemical- and cruelty-free mascaras? Here's a list complied by One Green Planet:

1. Beauty Without Cruelty

A full-volume mascara that helps to define and separate each individual lash, it is long-lasting and smudge-resistant.

2. Ecco Bella

This mascara is gentle and water-resistant (but not waterproof) and perfect for sensitive eyes. In addition it is easy to remove and comes with its own mirror.

3. e.l.f.

This clump-free and quick-drying mascara helps to achieve fuller, longer and thicker lashes without flaking or smudging.

4. Emani Minerals

A natural soy-based mascara, it nourishes, repairs and strengthens lashes. It is especially long-lasting and smudge-resistant, and is easy to remove.

5. Gabriel Cosmetics

This mascara is gentle and non-irritating, enriched with herbal extracts and minerals to help protect eyelashes. It is all-natural and is suitable for use by contact lens wearers and those with sensitive eyes.

6. Honeybee Gardens

This botanically-enriched mascara is long-lasting, providing all-day colour without clumping, flakingor smudging. In addition it is water-resistant, but not waterproof.

7. Lavera

A lengthening and volumizing mascara, this helps to nourish eyelashes with extracts of organic jojoba and wild rose oils. It offers long-lasting colour and volume, without flaking or smudging.

8. Larenim

This mascara contains jojoba oil, minerals and vitamin E to enhance lash growth. It defines and separates each lash, and is perfect for those with sensitive eyes.

9. Organic Wear

Helping to create dramatic, full and thick lashes this mascara is 100 percent natural. It doesn’t clump, flake or smudge and is long-lasting, coating lashes without breaking or drying them out.

10. 100% Pure

An excellent 100 percent natural mascara that lengthens, separates and thickens lashes with fruit and tea pigments. Suitable for those who wear contact lenses or have sensitive eyes, it is also smudge- and water-resistant.

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