A 47-year-old woman in Sacramento is in a coma after the face cream she used gave her mercury poisoning. As CBS Sacramento reports, the woman went to the emergency room in July, complaining about numbness in her hands and face, slurred speech, and difficulty walking. Her symptoms progressed over time, ultimately leading the mother of five to enter into a semicomatose state. Doctors determined her illness was due to mercury poisoning from an anti-wrinkle face cream that had been purchased in Mexico. The woman had apparently been using the product every day for two years.
The Sacramento County Department of Health Services found an incredibly toxic type of mercury, called methylmercury, in the woman’s face cream, which had a Pond’s label. The mercury, which was not part of the product’s original ingredients, was added to the product after purchase. According to KCRA-TV, mercury levels less than 5 micrograms per liter in a person’s blood are safe, but the woman had 2,630 micrograms in her system. Per the FDA, mercury compounds are only allowed in cosmetics as preservatives in eye-area products, and only in a small amount — 65 parts per million (ppm) — and when there is no other preservative that can be used in its place.
Sacramento County’s public health officer, Dr. Olivia Kasirye, told CBS Sacramento that there is an underground network of black-market suppliers that bring these altered skin creams into the U.S., which are then sold at swap meets and flea markets. The woman’s son said she had purchased the cream from a woman she knew.
In 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department confiscated $700,000 worth of counterfeit makeup that had tested for high levels of bacteria and animal feces. The incident shed light on the dangers of purchasing unregulated beauty products on the black market.