By Nataly Estrada
My first reaction after reading a report about a 47 year old woman from Sacramento, CA who became a victim of methyl mercury poisoning by using a face cream she purchased from Mexico, was “that could’ve been me!” I too am using a skin lightening cream that a friend of my mom brings back from her trips to Mexico all the time. Even though mine isn’t a Pond’s product, it could’ve easily been laced with the same toxic substance.
The Pond’s Rejuveness cream it turns out was tampered with mercury and another mercurious compound known as calomel, a less potent form though just as toxic as mercury. You’d be surprised to learn that such compounds effectively remove pigmentation on the skin, but with repeated use can lead to neurologic deficits, kidney damage and visual changes. According to Kaiser Health News, skin lightening products made overseas normally contain calomel or mercury, thereby the onus is on the consumer to educate themselves about the safety of products purchased overseas or even on sites such as Amazon or Ebay. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) along with other environmental public health groups, have made initiatives to ensure the giant online retailers remove skincare products that exceed the legal limit of 1 ppm mercury allowed by the FDA. Despite the dangers of mercury in cosmetics being sold to US consumers, the agency’s limited resources and authority on legal and illegal cosmetic importing is sadly prohibitive. In a 2013 study on international samples of lightening products, 367 tested products bought in stores and online in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Phoenix showed high levels of mercury ranging between 1,729 – 38,535 ppm. If imported skincare products passed through a screening process by a federal agency like the FDA, we’d be able to catch hundreds of thousands of creams that contain unacceptable levels of mercury, therefore ensure some degree of public safety. Yet, even with the best policies in place, this still doesn’t solve a problem like mine, and many other women who have at some point in their past used a lightening cream they bought from a trusted friend or relative abroad.
The disappointing part of the Sacramento woman’s case is that she is not alone. From 2010 to present, more than 60 cases of mercury poisoning linked to foreign cosmetics have been reported to the FDA. Public health officials recommend that consumers buy their products from reputable stores or online retailers, and to ensure that they are properly sealed and labeled upon purchasing. We recommend that consumers who wish to use lightening skin creams try a more natural alternative such as Uva Ursi leaf to lighten their skin tone or hyperpigmentation. Finally, if you really wanted to use a Pond’s Rejuveness cream or similar type of mercury or calomel containing product, discuss with your skincare specialist on the dangers of skin lightening creams and the safest method of use prior to application.
Be safe and “unlight” out there!
Benesh, M. (2018, November 15). Dangerous Levels of Mercury Found in Skin Creams Purchased on Amazon, eBay. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/news-and-analysis/2018/11/dangerous-levels-mercury-found-skin-creams-purchased-amazon-ebay
Hamann, C. R., Boonchai, W., Wen, L., Sakanashi, E. N., Chu, C., Hamann, K., …Hamann, D. (2014). Spectrometric analysis of mercury content in 549 skin-lightening products: Is mercury toxicity a hidden global health hazard? Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Kaiser Health News. (2019, October 1). Skin-Lightening Cream Put A Woman Into A Coma. It Could Happen Again. Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/skin-lightening-cream-cosmetic-poisoning
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