An estimated 12 children younger than 5 years old end up in emergency departments each day for poisonings and chemical burns related to cosmetic products like nail polish remover, hair relaxer, lotion and fragrance, according to a new study from researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University.
The researchers estimated that 64,686 children went to an emergency department for a cosmetic-related injury from 2002 to 2016, based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
There was no fatalities but no significant change in the number or rate of injuries over the 15-year time period. The study, by researchers at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s and Ohio State’s College of Medicine, was published Monday in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.
Study coauthor Rebecca McAdams, senior research associate at Nationwide Children’s, is the mom of a 1-year-old boy. With several cosmetic products in her home, she said it was shocking to learn the number of children going to emergency departments (EDs) for such injuries.
McAdams also said the numbers are probably an underestimate because they include only children taken to EDs — not to urgent care centers or pediatrician offices.
"There is this steady and persistent amount of injuries that are happening to kids from these cosmetic products that are everywhere in the home," McAdams said. "So it is really important for parents to take easy, simple steps — like they are for storing medications."
Products should be stored "up, away and out of sight," in original containers and, preferably, in a locked cabinet, she said.
Parents, she said, also should put the number of the national Poison Help Line, 800-222-1222, in their phone contacts and post it in an area of the home easily seen by babysitters or other caretakers.
Dr. Aparna Bole, incoming chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, said the risks from and safe storage of cosmetic products is something she regularly discusses with parents and families.
Many such products are packaged in a way that may be appealing to young children; they often smell good and may be tempting, said Bole, who practices in Cleveland.
Parents, she said, often think about keeping medications and cleaning products out of the reach of toddlers, but products they use frequently on their own bodies seem benign and tend to be left by sinks or in unlocked cabinets.
The study found that about 86% of the children were poisoned and about 14% had chemical burns. Children younger than 2 accounted for more than 59% of injuries, and nearly all exposures were in the home. About 6% of children were hospitalized.
Researchers note that cosmetic products have inconsistent risk warnings and are not required to have child-resistant packaging or warning labels.
Adding to the risk, McAdams said, is the natural curiosity of children and a tendency to put things in their mouths. Lotion, she said, may look like yogurt; nail polish remover like juice. She also referenced an exfoliant that resembles chocolate.
Bole said exposure can result in significant injuries and medical care, especially if ingredients such as lye are ingested or inhaled.
Such injuries, she said, are preventable.
"Even one, in some ways, is too many," she said. " ... It’s important for parents and families, because it’s something we can do something about."