A woman in Sacramento had been using Pond’s Rejuveness cream, which she purchased from Mexico, for the past seven years without incident.
But in July, she began having strange symptoms. At first, the 47-year-old went to a doctor after experiencing what CNN described as “an odd pricking sensation and arm weakness.” Two weeks later, she went back to the doctor, this time with blurred vision and slurred speech. She was admitted to a hospital at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF). Her condition worsened. Dr. Paul Blanc, part of UCSF’s division of occupational and environmental medicine and the California poison control system, wrote that the woman’s condition declined into “agitated delirium,” according to CNN.
He also wrote that he found “abnormally high” levels of methylmercury in her system. As CNN reported, methylmercury “is highly toxic and can cause permanent nervous system damage.”
The woman is now in a coma, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said her injuries may be permanent.
The woman had purchased the cream through friends. CNN reported it had been tainted after manufacturing, but it is unclear how. The cream is used to lighten skin in order to reduce blemishes and wrinkles.
“Officials tested the cream and found it contained 12,000 parts per million of methylmercury — a bit over 1.2%. It’s illegal in the US to sell skin creams that contain more than 1 ppm mercury,” CNN reported.
Dr. Blanc wrote that “Most harmful skin-lightening creams are intentionally tainted with inorganic mercury,” but, “in this case, the patient used a skin-lightening product containing organic mercury, which is far more toxic.”
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The harm methylmercury inflicts upon the nervous system often worsens after patients stop using or consuming tainted products, he said.
The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate even after she underwent chelation therapy, a treatment to flush mercury through her urine.
“Central nervous system toxicity, as in this case, is the hallmark of organic mercury — it typically comes on after weeks to months of exposure,” he said. “Once manifested, it quickly progresses and often worsens, despite removal of any further exposure.”
The outlet reported that the woman cannot speak on her own or care for herself and is currently relying on a feeding tube.
CNN reported there have been more than 60 poisonings in the past 10 years in California due to tainted skin creams, and that most of the creams are purchased “on the street” in Mexico.
“They’re often packaged in plastic containers without labels or are handmade, and they’re advertised to remove spots, wrinkles and blemishes,” the outlet reported. “Some of the confiscated creams contained as much as 21% mercury, health officials said.”