These Beauty Products Land Thousands of Kids in the ER

A new study tallies the staggering number of children treated for injuries related to perfume, nail polish, deodorant, and more

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If you’re the parent of a very young child, you’re probably already on full alert for household poisons, such as cleaning products, batteries, and even laundry pods. But new research demonstrates the importance of being cautious with how you store cosmetics and other personal care items, too.

These beauty products—which include perfumes, hair relaxers, nail polishes, moisturizers, skin oils, and deodorants—send a child under the age of 5 to the emergency room every 2 hours, according to a new study published June 17 in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

“These products are ubiquitous in United States homes, but if an infant or toddler gets into them, they can cause serious injury,” explains study co-author Rebecca McAdams, M.A., M.P.H., a senior research associate at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Here's what you need to know about the findings—and how to keep kids safe from potentially dangerous cosmetics.

What the Study Found

The researchers examined data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and found that between 2002 and 2016, 64,686 kids under the age of 5 were treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. for cosmetics-related injuries. About 60 percent of these injuries occurred in kids under the age of 2.

More on Kids' Safety

Most of these injuries (three-fourths) were due to kids swallowing personal care products, leading to poisoning. “These products are marketed to smell and look good, and babies and toddlers explore the world by putting things into their mouths,” explains McAdams. “Kids who are a little older—ages 2 to 4—can’t read yet, so if they see a product that looks or smells like something they’re allowed to eat, like a piece of soap shaped like a chocolate bar, they’ll try it.”

The second most common scenario, she adds, was a product making contact with a child’s skin or eyes, leading to a chemical burn—something more common in kids ages 2 to 4.

Researchers also looked at the types of products associated with the most injuries. The top three offenders were nail care products, hair care products, and skin care products. Nail polish remover was the individual product that led to the greatest number of visits to the emergency room, accounting for about 17 percent of all injuries. But more than half of the injuries that required hospitalization after treatment in the ER were due to hair care products such as hair relaxers.

“Most of the time, the exposure’s been small because as soon as a product starts hurting, the child stops drinking or spraying,” says C. Anthoney Lim, M.D., medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department and Pediatric Short Stay Unit at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York. “As a result, they present with minor injuries, similar to what you’d see from pepper spray—temporary throat burning, or eye irritation that usually resolves in a couple hours on its own. But hair products can be particularly dangerous because they can cause chemical burns both in the mouth and esophagus that can lead to significant injuries.”

How to Keep Kids Safe From Cosmetics

Personal care products can be particularly hazardous for kids because they’re often put in easy-to-reach places and aren’t in child-resistant containers, experts say.

“I tell all the parents I see in the ER to go home and get down on their hands and knees and walk around the house like they’re a child,” says Lim. “What they see at eye level is what their kids will get into—especially if it’s in an exciting, shiny container or smells good.”

The following steps can help safeguard your home for its littlest residents.

Store your personal care products securely. Don’t just assume that because you put your nail polish remover into a closed bathroom drawer or your shampoo up high in a shower caddy that your 2-year-old can’t access it.

“Toddlers and preschoolers can be surprisingly resourceful when it comes to accessing something that they want,” Lim says. Store these products in a cabinet that can be locked or latched.

Keep products in their original containers. That way, if your little one does get into your shampoo, you’ll know the exact ingredients in it, which will be important information either for your local poison control center or your pediatrician to know, says Don Huber, director of product safety for Consumer Reports.

Know who to call. There are 55 poison control centers in the U.S. that provide free 24-hour professional advice by pharmacists, physicians, and nurses who are also toxicology specialists. You can find information for your local poison control center online. All centers can also be reached by calling the same telephone number: 800-222-1222.

“Both my husband and I have this number saved in our cell phones, and we also have the number tacked onto my fridge for my babysitter,” says McAdams, who herself is mom to a toddler.

If a child has collapsed or is unconscious after ingesting a possible poison, call 911 immediately.

Hallie Levine

Hallie Levine is an award-winning magazine and freelance writer who contributes to Consumer Reports on health and fitness topics. Her work has been published in Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and Parents, among others. She's a mom to three kids and a fat but feisty black Labrador retriever named Ivry. In her (nonexistent) spare time, she likes to read, swim, and run marathons.