Shocking! Toxic metal in beauty cream causes partial blindness in woman

Despite it being a toxic metal, mercury is commonly found in skin-whitening cosmetics and soaps worldwide.

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Kimberly Rodrigues

A mom from Minnesota has gone partially blind after being exposed to mercury, a toxic metal found in the skin-lightening creams which she had been using, The Daily Mail reports.

This disclosure closely follows the massive recall of tens of thousands of stainless-steel sippy cups and baby bottles over the fear of exposing children to lead, which is a dangerous heavy metal.

According to the official report, the unnamed patient who is a Somalian had been using certain imported and home-bought products that reportedly had mercury levels 18,000 times higher than the safe amount.

Apparently, this information was not disclosed on the labels of these cosmetics.

Despite it being a toxic metal, mercury is commonly found in skin-whitening cosmetics and soaps worldwide.

These cosmetics are mostly used among Asian, Black, and Latina women who want to lighten their skin tone.

The creams containing mercury, get soaked up by the skin via hair follicles and sweat glands and then leak into the bloodstream where these heavy metals block melanin and its production. Melanin is a pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes their colour.

The woman who started experiencing inexplicable symptoms like muscle weakness, leg pain, insomnia, fatigue, and gradual loss of her peripheral vision, initially reached out to poisoning experts for help.

Unable to detect the cause of the woman’s suffering, the doctors referred her to a team of toxicologists led by Dr Erin Batdorff with the Minnesota Poison Control System.

A test conducted in 2022 discovered that the woman’s blood-mercury level had escalated to 46.6 micrograms/liter, which was reported over nine times the level considered normal (5mcg/L).

Though it was evident that the woman was suffering from mercury poisoning, further investigations uncovered that she had also unintentionally put her family at risk of mercury poisoning.

High levels of mercury were also discovered in her house – probably due to the amounts that were left back in the washing machine after her clothes were washed.

Abnormally high concentrations of mercury were also found in her children’s rooms and the children too had raised levels of the metal in their bodies.

The team of toxicologists carried out two separate home visits a year apart, to test for concentrations of mercury in the systems of the woman and her family.

The skin creams the woman used were tested for the metal as well.

The mercury contents of two products the woman had used previously used reportedly had several thousand times higher than the permitted levels of 1 part per million (ppm) in cosmetics. This was discovered during the first visit.

Additionally, urine tests revealed that she had high levels of mercury in her body – 23mcg/L.

The subsequent year, she showed the team two new creams that she had already used. However, it was found that the unopened versions of the same products contained extremely elevated levels of mercury of 11,000 and 18,000 ppm.

Usually, the symptoms of mercury poisoning include tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. However, the woman’s loss of vision is reportedly a more extreme symptom seen by Dr Batdorff.

Apparently, there can also be some life-threatening health effects of mercury poisoning including kidney failure, severe damage to the central nervous system, and infertility.

Though the report did not reveal which lightening creams the woman had been using, she reportedly bought some of them abroad. Previous reports by the Minnesota health department had identified several offending products including some creams made in Korea and Thailand.

Obviously, the woman was not aware that she was endangering herself and her family by using these products, said Dr Erin Batdorff who led the report.

She reportedly said, ‘No one intentionally wants to hurt themselves or their family members. But it’s out there and you can’t see it, you can’t smell it.

‘There’s no way [for consumers] to know whether [mercury] is in the creams or not because it’s not on the labels,’ Dr Batdorff said.

Dr Batdorff adds, ‘She will not recover her vision… So being a young woman that now has vision loss is really frightening and pretty concerning.’

Other symptoms of being exposed to mercury include depression, memory problems, irritability, rash, changes in hearing, and swollen and bleeding gums – and as mentioned before, in more extreme cases, it could cause kidney and nervous system disorders.

Dr Batdorff said, ‘With inorganic mercury, it’s that chronic long-term exposure that concerns me the most.

‘It’s more subtle but ends up building up in our system and is hard to eliminate, especially when it gets into the brain … and once mercury has crossed over into the brain and our nervous system, it can cause a lot of different side effects.’

Background mercury content which is below 200 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) is not a cause for concern.

However, according to the case report, levels of up to 400 ng/m3, were found in the children’s rooms. Also, their towels showed up to 600 micrograms per cubic meter.

Program Director for the Minnesota Biomonitoring program within the state health department, Jessica Nelson, reportedly said, ‘We need to be sure women know that products can have mercury in them.

‘And we need to focus on women who speak languages other than English and different ways of sharing the information, ideally through community partners.’

Amira Adawe, Founder and Executive Director of the Minnesota-based Beautywell Project, which champions efforts to address the harms of skin-lightening products among communities of color, has urged the FDA to improve enforcement measures.

Adawe is quoted as saying, ‘The products are widely available in ethnic malls like Karmel and the state has not actively regulated these products… I visited [a few months ago] to check if the products we tested that contained mercury are still available…and saw all the mercury-containing skin-lightening products displayed on the shelves.’