The unnamed woman had been poisoned with methylmercury after using a jar labeled Pond’s Rejuveness cream, according to the Department of Health Services in Sacramento, which said she had picked up the jar through an “informal network.”
“This is the first reported case of methylmercury poisoning of this type linked to a skin cream in the United States,” said a statement from the Department of Health Services (pdf).
“This type of cream is used by consumers as a skin lightener and to remove spots and wrinkles,” said the statement. “The mercury was not added by the Pond’s manufacturer, but by a third party after purchase.”
The cream had mercury iodide levels several thousand times the legal limit, according to ABC News.
“Sacramento County Public Health urges the community to immediately stop using similar skin creams imported from Mexico due to the risk of contamination with methylmercury,” said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye.
“Methylmercury is extremely dangerous to adults and children.”
The woman’s son told WAFB she had been buying the cream through a friend.
She was hospitalized with symptoms including numbness, tingling of the fingers and toes, slurring of speech, difficulty of walking, and headache before she was diagnosed with methylmercury poisoning.
“You know, she doesn’t speak and we’re not really sure if she’s fully focused looking at us and stuff. She can’t get up, stand, walk or none of that. She’s just kind of bed-bound,” the woman’s son told WAFB, identifying himself only as Jay to protect his mother’s identity.
According to the Department of Health Services, in California there have been over 60 poisonings linked to “foreign brand, unlabeled, and/or homemade skin creams” in the last 9 years that involved the less toxic form of mercury—mercurous chloride.
The majority of the creams appear to originate in Mexico and China, according to the Department of Health information, which said some products contain mercury at 200,000 times the legal limit.
“People use these types of creams for fading freckles, blemishes, and age spots; treating acne; and lightening the skin,” said a separate statement by the Sacramento Department of Health. “These creams are usually sold in small stores, swap meets, by individuals, or on the internet.”
Officials warned the public to avoid handmade, unlabeled creams and brand-name containers without seals.
“In earlier poisonings linked with imported skin cream, several children and babies who were not cream users became very sick from contact with mercury contamination in their homes or through contact with family members who used the products.”
Symptoms of mercury poisoning include difficulty concentrating and memory loss, nervousness, depression, headaches, weight loss, fatigue, as well as tremors and numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or lips.
Children with prolonged exposure may also have pink hands and feet, flaking skin, poor muscle tone, leg cramps and high temperature.