The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is warning consumers to avoid using skin creams in unlabeled or hand-labeled containers brought from Mexico, after reports of mercury poisoning associated with these products.
These creams are used for lightening the skin, fading freckles, blemishes, and age spots, and treating acne. They come in containers without labels or with hand-made labels. Some creams are light in color and turn dark grey/green after prolonged exposure to light. Some of them have contained more than 200,000 times the legal limit of mercury.
In the last four years, at least 60 people in California have been affected by the use of these creams. They include children and babies who became very sick from contact with the mercury contamination in their homes or through skin contact with family members who used the products. Children and pregnant women are especially sensitive to the toxic effects of mercury.
In addition to this consumer warning, CDPH is also working with its local, state and federal public health partners to warn people in California and Mexico about this serious health risk. CDPH has sent an alert to health care professionals, advising them to be aware of the symptoms of mercury poisoning. CDPH has also created a one-page fact sheet that is available in English and Spanish for sharing with patients or the general public.
Common signs of mercury poisoning in adults include irritability or depression, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, shaking or weakness, tingling or numbness in hands, feet, or around the mouth.
In children, common signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, anorexia, sleeplessness, poor muscle tone or weakness, leg cramps, hypertension, rash, excessive salivation or thirst, peeling skin, pink hands and feet, and gingivitis.
If you or your children have any of these symptoms and are using a skin-lightening or acne cream from Mexico, stop using the cream immediately and consult your health care provider about being tested for mercury poisoning.
For free medical advice in English or Spanish, call California Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Poison Control experts can also advise you on how to safely dispose of these creams.
More information about mercury poisoning from homemade skin creams, including materials in English and Spanish, is available on the CDPH website.