CATES: Cosmetics and injuries in children

A recent study by the Center for Injury Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that from 2002 and 2016 nearly 65 thousand children under age 5 received emergency treatment of injuries related to household cosmetics. That equates to one child visiting an emergency room every two hours because of unintentional exposure to cosmetics.  I will admit, I left my makeup, deodorant, and soaps on the counter in the bathroom, or in my shower with never a second thought that those things could endanger my kids when they were small. Honestly, I never even considered it as a risk, and I have taken care of hundreds of kids over the course of my career. I am quite sure many of you are the same. But, this study shows even those products that are so safe that we use them on our bodies every day, are not safe in the hands of a small child.

The researchers in this study defined household cosmetics as products that “cleanse, beautify, promote attractiveness, or alter appearance’. That encompasses a large number of products, everything from hair relaxers, to deodorants, to lipstick. Because that does contain such a large number of possibilities, the researchers divided cosmetics into five categories: nail care, hair care, skin care, fragrance, and other which includes deodorants and make-up.

The study found that 75% of injuries were related to the kids swallowing a product, and 19% of injuries were from product contact to the eyes.  Nail care products caused the most injuries, specifically nail polish remover. Hair care products, specifically hair relaxers and permanent solutions were most likely to cause injured children to need hospitalization as well as emergency room care. Children under two are also more likely to need hospitalization for injuries related to household cosmetics. The other part of this study that is concerning is that these numbers only account for children taken to the emergency room, it does not account for home treatments, urgent care centers, or physician offices. The likelihood is that injuries in small children related to household cosmetics happen far more often than this study shows. 

One of the co-authors of the study, Rebecca McAdams, said, “When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen. Kids this age can’t read, so they don’t know what they are looking at.  They see a bottle with a colorful label that looks or smells like something they are allowed to eat or drink, so they try to open it and take a swallow. When the bottle turns out to be nail polish instead of juice, or lotion instead of yogurt, serious injuries can occur.” Unlike medicines and other household chemicals, most cosmetic products do not have child-proof packaging, which makes them easier for small children to access. Normal childhood development also sets our kids up for these type of injuries, especially for kids under 2. They have new abilities, such as being able to walk, crawl, and grab. Toddlers quickly learn how to close doors and reach across surfaces as they are learning to walk. They explore by putting things in their mouths.  Yet, they do not have the experience to decide between harmful and not harmful as they encounter the objects in their explorations.

The best way to protect children from household cosmetics is to include them on your child-proofing list.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that household cosmetics are treated like medications—locked in a place that is high and out of sight of young children. The pictures of little ones getting into Mommy’s make up may be cute, but the reality is, those things can hurt those little people too, and that situation is best avoided.

If a child in your life is accidentally exposed to a household cosmetic, please call the national poison hot line at 1-800-222-1222, and seek medical care as soon as possible.