PhotoThe California Department of Public Health is warning consumers about possible high levels of mercury in skin-lightening creams imported from overseas.

Only two brands were specified by name: Monsepa Bleaching Express Peeling and Jiaoli Miraculous Cream. Anyone with such products is advised to immediately stop using them, along with any other cosmetic product whose ingredients list includes mercury, mercurio, mercurous chloride, cinnabar, or calomel — and especially, avoid using skin creams that don't list their ingredients at all.

So far, no cases of mercury poisoning have been reported among users of the Monsepa or Jiaoli creams. But not all users of contaminated lightening creams have been so lucky.

In 2012, the California DPH issued a warning about high mercury levels in an illegal, unlabeled skin lightening cream allegedly smuggled in from Mexico; the problem was discovered after a 39-year-old woman was hospitalized wih symptoms of mercury poisoning, including headaches, numbness, depression and forgetfulness.

Mercury is a particularly dangerous poison because it can be absorbed through the skin; merely touching it is all it takes to be poisoned. Needless to say, this same quality makes it a spectacularly dangerous ingredient for any cosmetic.

In addition to the symptoms previously mentioned, the symptoms of mercury poisoning can include impaired peripheral vision, muscle weakness, speech or hearing impairments, and disturbances of sensations — especially that “pins and needles” feeling in your extremities or around your mouth, for no apparent reason.

It's worth emphasizing that, despite the California DPH's recent warning, most cosmetics are safe to use and do not contain dangerous levels of mercury. However, if you think you recognize yourself or a loved one in that list of mercury-poisoning symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible and discontinue any new cosmetics or creams you recently started using — but do not throw them away just yet. Save them, just in case their contents need to be tested. And besides, throwing them away pollutes rivers and streams.

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