A California mother of five who used a skin cream twice daily is now in a coma, after discovering the beauty product was tainted with mercury.
"It came on very slowly," the Sacramento woman’s son, who wished to remain anonymous, told KOVR. "She had mentioned just numbing in her lips and numbing in her mouth. She had a lot of fatigue, very tired all the time, just wanting to be in bed."
He explained that his 47-year-old mom has been hospitalized since July after using the brand-name-labeled anti-wrinkle cream regularly for years. She had purchased it from Mexico and knew the product had been altered but said it worked better than products she easily purchased from her local drug store, he told the local station.
"The one from Mexico was better," her son said. "They would alter them a little bit, for the effect."
But never did her family realize it could have potentially life-threatening effects. While she was initially admitted to the hospital with numb hands and feet, slurred speech and trouble walking, she eventually had trouble responding to verbal commands and is now in a semi-comatose state, according to The Washington Post.
While the Sacramento Department of Health Services reported several skin creams that appeared in the California market containing mercury — leading to more than 60 mercury poisonings in the last nine years — this is the first time methylmercury poisoning occurred in the United States. Methylmercury is an extremely powerful and far more toxic form of mercury.
County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said there is an informal market of altered skin creams in the United States, with suppliers reselling the products at swap meets and flea markets.
"We don’t know if this was an intentional change or whether there was a mistake in the person who was adding the mercury," Kasirye told KOVR.
The Sacramento Department of Health Services has now published a list of products that have tested positive for mercury on its website, and Kasirye is warning consumers to stop all use of similar skin creams due to mercury and methylmercury’s dangerous effects, and to be careful about all beauty products they buy.
“It can reach high levels in the blood, and it can also cross over into the brain,” Kasirye said. “Once it crosses into the brain, even if you go to the hospital, the medication we have cannot pull it out.”
The woman’s son agreed; “Honestly, you don’t expect something this severe to happen with just a face lotion.”