The use of skin fairness creams is driving a surge in kidney problems in India, according to a new study.

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

The study, published in the medical journal Kidney International, showed that the increased use of fairness creams with high mercury content is driving cases of Membranous Nephropathy (MN), a condition damaging kidney filters and causing protein leakage.

MN is an autoimmune disease resulting in nephrotic syndrome- a kidney disorder that causes the body to excrete too much protein in the urine.

“Mercury gets absorbed through the skin, and wreaks havoc on kidney filters, leading to a surge in nephrotic syndrome cases,” one of the researchers Dr Sajeesh Sivadas, Department of Nephrology, Aster MIMS Hospital, Kottakkal, Kerala, wrote in a post on X.com.

“These creams, widely available in India's unregulated markets, promise quick results, but at what cost? Users often describe a disturbing addiction, as stopping usage leads to even darker skin,” he added.

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

The patients were presented to the Aster MIMS Hospital with symptoms that were often subtle with fatigue, mild edema, and increased frothing of urine. Only three patients had gross edema, but all had elevated protein levels in their urine.

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

The findings showed that about 68 per cent or 15 out of the 22 were positive for neural epidermal growth factor-like 1 protein (NELL-1) -- a rare form of MN that is more likely to be associated with malignancy.

Of the 15 patients, 13 admitted using skin fairness creams before their symptom onset.

Of the rest, one had a history of use of traditional indigenous medicines while the other had no identifiable trigger.

“Most cases resolved on cessation of use of the inciting creams. This poses a potential public health risk, and it is imperative to spread public awareness about hazards of using such products and alert health authorities to curb this menace,” said the researchers in the paper.

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

“This isn't just a skincare/kidney health issue; it's a public health crisis. And if mercury applied to the skin can cause such harm, imagine the implications if consumed. It's time for immediate action to regulate these harmful products and protect public health,” he said.

(Except for the headline, this story, from a syndicated feed, has not been edited by Odishatv.in staff)