Mercury-Tainted Skin Lightening Cream Left Woman Comatose, Probably Permanently, CDC Warns

Federal health officials are warning about the risks associated with skin lightening creams that may contain high levels of methyl mercury, which is poisonous to humans and caused reportedly resulted in the hospitalization of a California woman with severe nervous system damage after routinely using a product imported from Mexico on a daily basis.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning on December 20, after recognizing certain skin lightening creams may be tainted with extremely toxic and high levels of methyl mercury, which may cause serious and permanent damage to consumers.

CDC officials issued the warning after reviewing a case study involving a 47 year-old woman from Sacramento, California, who became severely ill after reportedly using an imported skin lightening cream.

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The case report indicates the Sacramento woman visited her primary care doctor in July 2019, after experiencing an odd pricking sensation and weakness in her arms. The woman returned to her doctor two weeks later with blurry vision and slurred speech and was rushed to the University of California hospital where her condition rapidly declined.

Officials report the woman was diagnosed with abnormally high levels of methyl mercury, which caused severe damage to her central nervous system. The case report indicated the woman’s mercury levels were elevated to such high rates that she required prolonged chelation therapy, which is a therapy treatment for those with heavy metal poisoning.

Despite the treatments, the Sacramento woman’s condition has steadily declined over the last several months and she remains hospitalized. The CDC report indicates the patient is still unable to speak or care for herself, relying on a feeding tube for nutrition.

Officials collected the bottle of skin lightening cream used by the patient, and found it contained 12,000 parts per million of methyl mercury, which is over the legal limit set by U.S. regulators. The patient reportedly was using Pond’s Rejuveness from Mexico, that had been tainted with methyl mercury after its manufacturing. The patient’s family reported she routinely applied the product to her skin twice daily over the past seven years.

As a result of the case report, the CDC is warning consumers to only use skin lightening creams that are sold through verified retailers, and to never use homemade, unlabeled or imported skin creams not approved for sale in the U.S.

Skin lightener creams are promoted as having the ability to lighten or whiten one’s skin color, as well as fix uneven skin tomes and blemishes. Some of the products may also be marketed for acne treatments.

However, some of the products have been found to contain dangerous levels of mercury that have led to cases of mercury poisoning dating back to 2012, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The California Department of Public Health has received more than 60 methyl mercury poisonings related to skin care products over the last decade.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause kidney damage, kidney failure and cause damage to the body’s nervous system. Methyl mercury exposure has also been found to cause developmental problems in unborn and young children.

The skin creams do not have to be applied to the skin to do damage. The fumes alone can harm everyone in a household where the creams are being used, particularly infants and children.

The FDA has warned the side effects of skin lightening products can include a variety of ailments, from severe acne to damage to the nervous system. In some cases the skin can become thin and bruise easily or turn blue-black in certain spots. In some cases, the creams have also been found to cause hypertension and throw off the body’s natural balance of steroids.

However, the CDC reports this is the first known incident involving methyl mercury contamination.


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