Maryland and Virginia Report Poisoning From Skin Products

The FDA warns consumers of mercury-tainted creams and lotions.

By: Melissa Romero

Stillman's skin cream is one of the mercury-tainted products investigated by the FDA. Photograph courtesy of the FDA.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers Tuesday that women in at least seven states, including Virginia and Maryland, have been exposed to poison from using skin-care products tainted with mercury.

The products, which claim to lighten skin and provide anti-aging benefits, are manufactured abroad and are either sold illegally in the US or are brought back by citizens from abroad. They’re often found in shops in Latino, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern neighborhoods and online, according to the FDA.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene warned of mercury-tainted skin creams last November. One product is labeled Crema Aguamary and is from Mexico.

Meanwhile, Virginia investigated several cases of mercury poisoning in March 2010. Ten people, including children and adults, were exposed to mercury from a skin-lightening cream, also from Mexico.

Officials in Texas who tested certain face creams found mercury levels that were up to 131,000 times the recommended level, which is less than one part per million.

Mercury exposure can pose serious health risks, including damage to the kidneys and nervous system, warned FDA senior medical advisor Charles Lee in a statement. It can also “interfere with the development of the brain in unborn children and very young children.”

Even more troubling is that children can be exposed to mercury just from breathing in tainted lotion, or from touching their parents’ skin and then putting their hands and fingers into their mouths.

If you have mercury poisoning, you’re likely to exhibit symptoms of irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, memory problems, depression, and numbness or tingling in hands, feet, or around the mouth.

The FDA urges consumers to check the ingredients on every product they use. (Under federal law, all products should have a label or ingredients listed.) If you see the words “mercurous chloride,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or “mercury,” stop using the product. Seal the tainted product in a bag or leak-proof container and contact your medical care clinic for advice or help.

For more information, click here. If you have questions, the FDA’s Poison Center phone line is open 24 hours a day at 800-222-1222.