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Skin Creams Sold at California Flea Markets Contain Mercury: CDPH

The California Department of Public Health issued a warning this week urging consumers to avoid using the skin cream, La Tía Mána, and an unlabeled cream similar in appearance

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is warning consumers to avoid using two skin creams sold at flea markets in the state – products that tested positive for high levels of mercury.

The CDPH said this week that there’s a possible health risk associated with two skin care products: La Tía Mána cream, and a second cream that comes in a similar white container as La Tía Mána, only without a label.

According to the warning, the creams – which typically hail from Mexico and are also known as “homemade” creams – contain high levels of mercury, a toxic chemical that, with regular or prolonged exposure, can cause mercury poisoning. The creams were sampled and submitted for analysis by the CDPH, health officials told NBC 7 Wednesday.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, depression, nervousness, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, fatigue, tremors, shaking or weakness and tingling or numbness in the hands, feet or around the mouth.

The CDPH said both products were discovered as part of an investigation spearheaded by the department looking into unlawful products being sold by vendors operating at an open-air flea market in Southern California's Ventura County.

The products were both labeled and unlabeled, and according to the CDPH, were packaged "in jars consistent with past products that previously tested positive for elevated mercury content in 2014."

The products are also known to be sold in California cities through informal networks, at times via social media, often by people who brought the products into the U.S. from Mexico. NBC 7 found several Facebook pages for La Tía Mána cream that claim to be a resource for consumers trying to buy the product. Some of those pages claim to be based out of cities like Fresno and Oxnard, California.

The skin creams claim to serve a variety of uses including to lighten the skin, fade freckles, blemishes and age spots and to treat acne.

The CDPH said there have been no reports of illnesses associated with these particular creams just yet, but similar creams -- the ones that tested positive for mercury in 2014 -- have resulted in health issues nationwide.

Some of those health problems associated with similar products have included poisoning in children and babies who didn’t use the creams, but were exposed to mercury through close contact with family members who used the products.

In some cases, according to this warning issued by the CDPH in May 2014, products contained up to 21 percent mercury – or 210,000 parts per million (ppm). In the U.S., it is illegal to sell skin cream products that contain 1 ppm or more.

Health officials advise consumers to discontinue using these products and check their other skin products for harmful ingredients such as mercury; mercurio; mercurous chloride; cinnabar; calomel. Products packaged without labeling should be avoided too, the CDPH said.

The CDPH said consumers experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning stemming from use of these products should see a doctor and call the California Poison Control System at (800) 222-1222. Consumers who see these products being sold can also reach out to the CDPH’s Food and Drug Branch complaint hotline at (800) 495-3232.

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