Warning: Have you used skin-lightening cream?

Using skin creams

If you answered yes to this question, Restoration MedSpa wants you to please be aware of the potential risks and dangers… and to keep reading!

One Sacramento woman was put into a coma by using a tainted product – and it could easily happen again.

First let’s start with the problem: Methylmercury. It is a heavy metal used in things like thermometers, batteries and mirrors, and long-term exposure can cause kidney damage, loss of peripheral vision and lack of coordination. Unfortunately along with a less potent, but still toxic, form of mercury known as calomel — it is also a key ingredient in some skin-lightening products.

In the most recent case, a Sacramento woman had been buying face cream through a “friend of a friend” for many years. This is a practice we at Restoration MedSpa emphatically ask you not to do. We understand the dangers of not getting what you paid for or getting more than you expected when you cannot verify the quality of a product.

In this particular case, the cream she ordered was an anti-wrinkle cream that is made and sold in Mexico. There is a market for these products which is driven by immigrants who buy them from their home countries. Somewhere, someone along the chain of processing her order tampered with the product after manufacture and laced it with a toxic skin-lightening compound which had a devastating effect on this individual. She showed up at the emergency room with slurred speech, unable to walk, and unable to feel her hands or face, according to public health officials. She now lies semi-comatose in a hospital. Authorities aren’t releasing her name, but they say she is the first known victim of methylmercury poisoning from a cosmetic in the United States. Kaiser Health News (KHN) reported this in early October, 2019.

Frighteningly enough, there are other skin-lightening products made overseas that intentionally contain mercury as an active ingredient. While mercury does remove skin pigmentation, the side effects are toxic. While it is illegal to sell cosmetics in the U.S. with more than 1 part per million (ppm) of mercury (except eye products, which can have up to 65), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot keep up with imports, whether they’re shipped, tucked into suitcases or purchased online.

Products made outside the United States are not subject to the same FDA standards as American-made products. They might contain poisonous chemicals, like mercury, or have higher portions of potentially dangerous ingredients. Skin-lightening products are advertised for their ability to even out blemishes and skin tone, but some people feel pressure to use them on their whole face or body in cultures that tend to place more emphasis and social status on people with lighter skin.

In the U.S., potentially hazardous skin-lightening products can be purchased in some ethnic beauty stores, in ethnic supermarkets and at flea markets or even from popular online sites like Amazon and eBay.

The FDA only regulates medical grade products which are sold only through authorized dealers. Restoration MedSpa only sells FDA approved products. It remains up to public health officials to catch poisoning cases when and where they happen and then trace it back to the original source.

Restoration MedSpa, along with public health officials, recommends that you should never buy cosmetics at yard sales, discount stores, flea markets or online. Only purchase from authorized dealers and always check that products are properly sealed and labeled – no matter where you purchase them.

If you are interested in skin-lightening or other skin enhancing treatments, please call us at 336.999.8295 or visit our Contact Us page to learn more about Restoration MedSpa’s medical grade products.


Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.