Hazardous Products: Cosmetics and Religious Powders

Certain cosmetics and religious powders can contain harmful metals, such as lead and mercury. Lead or mercury may not always be listed on the product packaging. Lead and mercury can cause serious health effects, including damage to the brain and kidneys. During pregnancy, lead and mercury can also affect the fetus and increase the risk of miscarriage.

You should not use any products known to contain lead or mercury. When you touch products that contain lead, lead may get on your hands. Lead can enter your body if you put your hands in your mouth after handling these products. Children are at an increased risk because they often put their hands in their mouths. When you use skin products that contain mercury, the mercury may be absorbed through your skin.

If you use potentially hazardous cosmetics or religious powders:

  • Stop using products known to contain high levels of lead or mercury.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling cosmetics and religious powders.
  • Keep the products away from children.
  • Report NYC stores where these products are sold by calling 311.

Kohl, Kajal, Surma and Tiro

Kohl, kajal, surma and tiro may have high levels of lead. These products come from Asia, Africa and the Middle East and are primarily used as eye cosmetics. They can also be used for religious, cultural and medicinal purposes.

Sindoor and Kum Kum

Traditional powders used for cultural purposes may have high levels of lead. The orange or red pigment is put on both children and adults. These powders are intended for topical use only.


Litargirio, a traditional remedy from the Dominican Republic, can also contain high levels of lead. Litargirio is used for skin problems and as a deodorant. Local Law 49 prohibits the sale of litargirio in New York City.

Skin-Lightening Creams and Soaps

Certain skin-lightening creams and medicated soaps contain high levels of mercury, even if it is not listed as an ingredient on the label. These include products purchased in the United States or abroad. Some skin-lightening creams and medicated soaps that have been found to contain high levels of mercury are listed on our Mercury in Soap and Creams webpage. Call 311 to report a store selling products found to contain mercury.

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