Local government leaders have warned of the dangers of skin-lightening creams that 'act like paint stripper' and increase the risk of cancer.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging people to avoid illegal creams after recent seizures by councils of dangerous products.
They fear criminals are exploiting a soaring market by making inferior toxic products which are being sold by rogue retailers, online and at car boot sales and market stalls.
Many of the toxic creams contain the bleaching agent hydroquinone - described as the biological equivalent of paint stripper – while others can include potentially deadly levels of mercury.
But the illegal products typically list their often harmful ingredients incorrectly.
Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said: '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.
'Consumers should always check the ingredients of their skin creams, be suspicious of very low prices which are likely to indicate the lotion is fake and potentially harmful, and never use a product containing hydroquinone.
'If the product doesn’t display the ingredients at all, then don’t use it.'