A woman is in a semi-comatose state after using a skincare cream from Mexico, which was tainted with toxic levels of mercury.
The 47-year-old mother of five, of Sacramento, Calif., has allegedly been buying Pond’s Rejuveness cream from Jalisco, Mexico, through a “friend of a friend” for 12 years, and using it twice a day without any problems.
According to Fox News, her son said his mother was aware that an ingredient was being added to the face cream before it was shipped — ostensibly, to make the anti-aging cream more effective — but that she hadn’t experienced any issues with the skincare product before.
Testing revealed that the tainted face cream contained a powerful form of mercury, known as methylmercury. While mercury levels less than 5 micrograms per liter in the blood are considered acceptable, the woman had 2,630 micrograms per liter in her blood, according to KCRA.
“It came on very slowly,” the son, who asked not to be identified, told CBS Sacramento. “She had mentioned just numbing in her lips, and numbing in her mouth, she had a lot of fatigue, very tired all the time, just wanting to be in bed.”
In July, the woman went to the hospital after her symptoms, which now included slurred speech and difficulty walking, became worse. She eventually fell into a semi-comatose state and has remained there for weeks, according to KCRA.
Although high levels of mercury are toxic, the heavy metal is found in some skincare products. “Mercury has been used in cosmetic products, as a preservative, as skin lightener, and with certain eye products,” Susan Massick, dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The FDA strictly regulates the use of mercury in products manufactured in the U.S. and limits its use in products. Unfortunately, products manufactured in or imported from countries outside the U.S., where regulations aren't as strict and the oversight is not as vigorous, can contain much higher levels that are unsafe and possibly even toxic and can lead to serious health complications.”
If mercury is absorbed into the skin, people can develop skin irritation and allergic reactions, explains Massick. “At higher levels and with chronic use, there can be signs of neurotoxicity, including headaches, irritability, memory loss, tremors, numbness of extremities and lips, changes in vision and hearing, and depression.”
Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to mercury’s toxicity. According to the Sacramento Department of Health Services, children and babies can become very sick through contact with family members who use the tainted products.
So what can you do to protect yourself? The Sacramento Department of Health advises avoiding homemade or unlabeled creams, as well as brand-name containers that are not sealed when purchased. “Unsealed containers could have been tampered with and may contain mercury,” the department said.
“Know the source of your products — buy from reputable companies and businesses,” says Massick. “Beware of online purchases where the prices are much lower than what you normally see — these discounted products may be knockoffs and potentially unsafe.”
She adds: “Avoid buying products manufactured in and imported from foreign countries, particularly Mexico. If you are in a foreign country and tempted to buy products that look exactly like the American counterparts, chances are high that these may contain contaminants and, in some cases, toxic levels of chemicals that would be harmful to your health.”
On its website, the Sacramento Department of Health Services shows images of several skincare products known to contain mercury. If you or a loved one has any of these creams at home, the Sacramento Department of Health urges people to stop using them immediately and get a blood and urine test from a doctor or healthcare provider. Place the cream in a closed Ziploc bag and contact your local health department.
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