California woman in semicomatose state after Mexican skin cream gives her mercury poisoning

A California woman is now in a semicomatose state after she used a Mexican skin cream that was tainted with methylmercury, according to KCRA

The unidentified 47-year-old woman, from Sacramento, had purportedly purchased the Pond's-labeled cream, which is used to lighten skin and remove spots and wrinkles, at a pharmacy in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The station reports that, in July, the woman landed in an emergency room with numbness in her hands and face. She also had trouble walking and slurred her speech, health officials said.

While treating the woman, doctors discovered high levels of mercury in her blood and learned, through testing of the woman's cosmetic products, that her skin cream caused her condition. 

"When they got to the face cream is when they noticed it had a very high level of mercury," her son told the station. 

The mercury was allegedly added after the woman's purchase and not by Pond's. The chemical is occasionally added to beauty products because it stops the production of melanin and gets rid of age spots, health officials explained. Still, mercury is toxic, said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye. 

"It can reach high levels in the blood, and it can also cross into the brain, and once it crosses into the brain, even if you go to the hospital, the medication we have cannot pull it out," she said. 

The woman, who was initially able to respond to verbal commands, is now unconscious, her son said. Though doctors told KCRA that mercury levels less than 5 micrograms per liter in the blood are acceptable, the 47-year-old supposedly had 2,630 micrograms per liter in her blood. Health officials added that she is the first reported case of methylmercury poisoning linked to a skin cream in the United States. 

"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," Kasirye said. "Methylmercury is extremely dangerous to adults and children."

In a statement, Pond's said it was aware of the woman's situation. 

"Pond's only designs, manufactures and clears for sale products that are safe for consumers. We do not use mercury in our products," the company said. "We take this matter very seriously and work closely with all authorized retailers to be sure products remain intact and safe for use from shipment to shelf."

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