Shampoos, Perfumes, and Other Cosmetics Send Thousands of Kids to the ER Every Year

Illustration for article titled Shampoos, Perfumes, and Other Cosmetics Send Thousands of Kids to the ER Every Year
Photo: Kaspar Manz (Flickr)

Nail polish removers and other personal care products are sending a shocking number of young kids in the U.S. to the emergency room, according to a new study out Monday. Nearly 65,000 children under the age of five have been treated for “cosmetic-related injuries” in ERs in the 15 years leading up to 2016, the study found.


Researchers at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio looked at data from the government-run National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). The NEISS collects injury reports caused by consumer products from a sample of emergency rooms across the country, then uses that to come up with a rough national estimate.

According to the NEISS data, the authors found that an estimated 64,686 children five or younger between 2002 to 2016 had gone to the ER with an injury caused by a personal care product. That amounts to around 4,300 injuries annually, or an injury every two hours. The study, the authors say, is the first to come up with a national estimate of these injuries for children under five.

The team’s findings were published Sunday in Clinical Pediatrics.

“When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen,” study co-author Rebecca McAdams, senior research associate in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s, said in a release from the hospital. “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 remover instead of juice, or lotion instead of yogurt, serious injuries can occur.”

The most common kinds of product implicated in these injuries involved nail care (28.3 percent), hair care (27 percent), skin care (25 percent), and fragrances (12.7 percent). Hair care products like chemical relaxers were the most common cause of serious injuries that required hospitalization, though, accounting for just over half of such cases.

As for the injuries themselves, 75.7 percent were caused by the child drinking or eating the offending substance, with another 19.3 percent caused by the chemical getting onto the skin or into the eyes.


The injury rate throughout the study period was constant. So there’s likely no growing epidemic, but it also means that we haven’t gotten any better at preventing these accidents from happening in the first place. And the bulk of that responsibility largely falls on parents for now, according to McAdams.

“Because these products are currently not required to have child-resistant packaging, it is important for parents to put them away immediately after use and store them safely—up, away, and out of sight—preferably in a cabinet or closet with a lock or a latch,” she said. “These simple steps can prevent many injuries and trips to the emergency department.”


Born and raised in NYC, Ed covers public health, disease, and weird animal science for Gizmodo. He has previously reported for the Atlantic, Vice, Pacific Standard, and Undark Magazine.



You can assume that a toddler can get to anything within 4 feet of the ground if it’s not locked down. I’m a pediatrician and always think I’m doing a good job child-proofing my house with various locks and things, until my toddler comes over with something and says “I eat that?” It’s like the full power of the human brain focused on finding new ways to get hurt.