(CNN)Skin-whitening creams can be as toxic as paint strippers and should be "avoided at all costs," the UK's Local Government Association has warned.
Toxic skin-whitening creams should be 'avoided at all costs,' UK officials warn
The creams "act like paint stripper and increase the risk of cancer," said the LGA, which represents regional councils in England and Wales.
Many skin-whitening products are banned in the UK due to harmful ingredients -- but recent seizures of banned products indicate they are still being sold in a booming industry, the LGA said in its press release.
Most of those products include the banned ingredient hydroquinon -- a bleaching agent which is "the biological equivalent of paint stripper," said the LGA statement. It essentially removes the top later of skin, increasing cancer risk and potentially causing liver and kidney damage.
Mercury, another common banned ingredient, can cause reduced resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, liver damage, anxiety, depression or psychosis, according to the World Health Organization.
"Skin creams containing banned ingredients are very dangerous and could seriously damage your health, scar you for life and even kill you, so they should be avoided at all costs," said Blackpool Councilor Simon Blackburn in the press release.
Skin-whitening creams with natural or non-harmful ingredients are legally allowed, but they are often expensive, driving up the demand for cheap and dangerous banned products, said the LGA. Company executives who are caught selling these banned products can be fined up to 20,000 pounds (about $24,500) and jailed for up to a year.
The illegal creams and products are often sold at local markets, said the LGA -- but they are on shelves at cosmetics stores as well. In May, hundreds of products containing hydroquinon were seized from stores in areas outside London. The owners of one store were fined 6,500 pounds (about $8,000) and ordered to pay 8,010 (about $9,800) to the local council. Last August, a shopkeeper in South London was