Texans warned about mercury poisoning from skin cream purchased in Mexico

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is warning Texans to be careful about buying skin cream in Mexico, after someone reported symptoms of mercury poisoning.

"So, mercury poisoning is a very serious thing," said Dr. Minying Gu, a family physician with Glossy by Kind Clinic. "And, so the goal is to obviously make sure everybody is purchasing products that are reliable, that have ingredients that are listed on the product label and then not exposing themselves to potentially toxic materials, like mercury."

DSHS said in late June, a family from west Texas was exposed to mercury through a tainted skin-lightening cream purchased in Mexico. One person had mild symptoms. The agency says mercury was not listed on the label as an ingredient.

"Definitely think twice about purchasing from outside the country, because you just never know what is in that product, if it’s been tampered with," Dr. Gu cautions.

She said general symptoms of mercury poisoning run the gamut and mimic other conditions. But, some things to watch out for include: 

  • Tingling or numbness in hands, feet or lips
  • Tiredness or muscle weakness in arms and legs
  • Memory loss, headaches or difficulty concentrating

"Your skin is the biggest organ that you have," said Dr. Gu. "It absorbs all different kinds of things. We have prescription medication that is what’s called transdermal – the active ingredient is absorbed through the skin. So, you have to be very careful about what you’re putting on yourself - because any of that can be absorbed by the big organ that you have and then become systemic or get into your bloodstream and cause a lot of potentially dangerous things."


In fact, according to DSHS, long-term mercury exposure may cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and kidneys. In severe cases, those symptoms can also include extreme fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, and sores in the mouth. 

So, it's important, if you suspect you've been exposed to mercury, such as through tainted skin creams bought in Mexico, see a doctor.

"If there is suspicion of mercury poisoning, the provider should be either checking a blood mercury level or a 24-hour urine collection," said Dr. Gu.

She said mercury poisoning generally requires supportive care, such as IV fluids. Depending on the severity and levels of mercury in the blood, doctors may also use what's called chelation treatment. That medicine will bind with mercury in the body and help flush it out of your system through urination.