The desire for lighter, clearer skin causes some consumers to take drastic measures hoping for dramatic results. It also has predators putting toxic merchandise on the streets, luring the consumer into using a tampered product that’s too good to be true. The outcome is less than desirable and, in some cases, downright life-threatening.
In 2014, a 20-month-old baby suddenly stopped thriving, needing a feeding tube because of a face cream. In 2013, a 16-year-old boy’s legs started involuntarily twitching due to homemade cream. Most alarming of all, in September, a woman fell into a coma after showing up to the hospital with slurred speech and unable to walk, because of a face cream.
These California medical cases all have one thing in common: the creams involved were all tainted with mercury. A Health Alert issued by the California Department of Public Health states the baby’s mother used a skin-lightening cream from Mexico, and “the baby was most likely exposed to mercury through physical contact with the mother or from contact with contaminated household items.” The teenager used a homemade cream from Mexico to treat acne. The woman who fell into a coma used a product called Pond’s Rejuveness anti-wrinkle and spot removal cream. She obtained the mercury-laced product from an informal network that imported it from Mexico, according to an article posted by Sacramento County. The product was tampered with after it had been manufactured in Mexico.
Toxic effects from mercury poisoning can be debilitating or deadly. It can spread from the hands and get into the air for anyone to breath in. Mercury attacks the central nervous system and kidneys. Exposure can cause loss of peripheral vision, muscle weakness, tremors, headaches, insomnia, and mood swings. It can also cause impaired speech, hearing, and the ability to walk.
These face creams have been found in ethnic beauty stores, ethnic supermarkets, swap meets, online, and on the streets. Officials with the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) issued a warning to consumers and licensees about purchasing tainted face creams.
“Consumers and BBC licensees should be aware of what they are purchasing and using,” said BBC Executive Officer Kristy Underwood. “It’s important for them to confirm that products have been approved by the FDA and come from an authorized distributor in the United States,” Underwood said.
Pond’s products purchased at chain stores such as Walmart, CVS, or the Dollar Store both in the United States and Mexico are safe to purchase, as long as the protective foil is sealed underneath the lid, according to Sacramento County Public Health officials.
Some products are tampered with, but others intentionally contain mercury as an active ingredient. So, is getting rid of a few pimples or age spots worth the risk? If it’s coming from an unreliable source, it could end up harming more than one person.
If you suspect a product you are using has been altered, California health officials suggest putting the cream in a sealed plastic bag, disposing of it at a hazardous waste facility, and making an appointment with your doctor to have your blood and urine tested for mercury.