Health authorities in Virginia are trying to determine if a homemade cream that’s supposed to lighten the skin, fade freckles and age spots, and treat acne exposed 10 people to mercury.
The case involves children and adults who had elevated levels of mercury in their bodies after using the cream over the course of a few years, said Department of Health toxicologist Dwight Flammia.
Health officials discovered the Virginia cases while working with authorities in California on another case involving a family that used the same cream. The product, which tests show contains 5 to 6 percent mercury, was sold without labels at locations in Mexico, Flammia said.
Mercury used to be found in various medicinal products, including skin-lightening creams. However, it’s been banned from most regulated and over-the-counter medications in the U.S. because it’s toxic.
Unregulated products may contain mercury that can be absorbed when those products contact the skin. Elevated mercury levels can affect the nervous system and kidneys. Symptoms of poisoning include irritability, tremors, memory loss, personality changes, gum inflammation and upset stomach.
None of those symptoms showed up in the Virginia cases, according to Flammia.
The investigation began when the CDC conducted nutritional tests in California. According to the state’s Department of Public Health, blood and urine tests showed elevated mercury levels in a family that had been using the same cream as relatives in Virginia.
There’s been no comment on the investigation by the CDC or the FDA.