Woman hospitalized with mercury poisoning after using face cream from Mexico

This Pond's cream bottle included extremely high levels of mercury.
(California Department of Public Health)

A Sacramento woman has been hospitalized in a semi-comatose state after using face cream purchased from a pharmacy in Jalisco, Mexico, that was tainted with methylmercury, county officials announced this week.

The 47-year-old woman, who was not identified, went to the emergency room with numbness in her hands and face and slurred speech. Her condition worsened over time.

Sacramento County officials would not say more about her condition, citing patient protection laws, but the California Department of Public Health used the woman’s experience in a warning about the dangers of buying skin products imported from Mexico.


The woman went from being able to respond to verbal commands to being nonresponsive, according to the Health Department. She began moaning and thrashing and had to be restrained in bed.

In an effort to determine the source of the mercury poisoning, officials tested the woman’s cosmetic products, her son told KCRW-FM (89.9).

“When they got to the face cream is when they noticed it had a very high level of mercury,” the son said. He did not identify himself to the Sacramento television station.

This is the first case of mercury poisoning from a skin cream in the U.S., health officials said.

The woman had 2,630 micrograms of mercury per liter in her blood stream, more than 500 times the normal amount.

Face creams often contain mercury salts, but the woman’s toiletry item contained much stronger methylmercury iodide. The cream she was using, which was labeled as a Pond’s product, contained 12,000 micrograms of mercury per liter.

Selling products with more than one microgram of mercury per liter is illegal in the U.S., according to the California Department of Public Health.

Health officials said mercury-tainted creams are typically sold in California cities through “informal networks” and sometimes are directly imported from Mexico.

Mercury in facial products is used to lighten the skin, fade freckles and age spots and treat acne. Usually, the bootleg creams come in containers with no labels, but mercury is sometimes added to commercial products such as the Pond’s cream.

The Sacramento woman bought her cream from a pharmacy in Jalisco, Mexico.

“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 Olivia Kasirye, the county’s public health officer.

In a statement, a representative for Pond’s products said company-created creams are safe for use.

“We do not use mercury in our products,” said Asia Young, a spokeswoman for Pond’s. “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.”

Young said that includes the Pond’s facility in Mexico. The company is working with authorities to investigate how the cream the woman purchased became tainted.