July 30, 2023

Keep These Bathroom Items Out of Kids’ Reach

Many cosmetic products can cause poisoning and chemical burns

Curious toddler exploring mom's makeup case, holding foundation tube.

Kids don’t just say the darndest things — they get into the darndest things, too. A tipped-over bottle, a mess on the counter, a telltale smear around their mouth (or all over your walls)…

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Sometimes, the products they get into are harmless (to them, at least. We can’t speak to the bright red lipstick on your nice, white walls). But other times, kids get into cosmetics products that have the potential to cause real harm.

Emergency medicine physician Thomas Waters, MD, explains which products to keep locked up and away from curious kiddos.

Bathroom safety tips

You know to keep dangerous products like medications and cleaning products out of your kids’ reach. But are you clued into other dangers in plain sight around your bathroom?

“Products that can be safely used by adults can be harmful to kids who don’t know better,” Dr. Waters says. Cosmetic products, in particular, can be an accident waiting to happen.

Be aware of problematic products

Sure, you know nail polish remover isn’t drinkable, but inquisitive kids don’t yet have any existing knowledge of what’s safe and what’s going to hurt them.

A 2019 study found that more than 4,300 children under the age of 5 are treated for cosmetic-related injuries in emergency departments across the United States each year. The majority of these injuries occur in kids under age 2.

“Many of these products are packaged and designed to be visually appealing, and they often smell good,” Dr. Waters notes. “We have a sense of comfort with these products, but we should really keep them up out of the reach of little hands.”

Here are the most common culprits:

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Nail care products

Nail polish itself is a risk, but nail polish remover is the cosmetics product at the root of most ingestion (swallowing) injuries. The chemicals in nail polish remover can irritate the throat and stomach and can even lead to acetone poisoning and other potentially severe concerns.

Hair products

Hair relaxers, perm solutions and hair dye are the most likely to cause contact injuries, meaning kids can get rashes and chemical burns just by touching them. Kids who are exposed to these products are over three times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are exposed to other products.

Fragrances

Fragrances like perfumes, colognes and aftershaves are most likely to cause eye injuries — like, for example, when a child accidentally sprays themselves in the face with perfume.

Skin creams and lotions

Just because it smells good doesn’t mean it’s edible, but little kids don’t realize that. Creams and lotions account for about 10% of cosmetics-related injuries, which isn’t surprising when you think about how delicious they can smell and how colorful their packaging often is.

Other products

There are other products you should keep away from kids, too, at the risk of causing injury. They include:

  • Deodorants and antiperspirants.
  • Essential oils.
  • Makeup.
  • Nail polish.
  • Nail primer.
  • Powder.
  • Shampoo and conditioner.
  • Skin oils.
  • Sunscreen.

Know the possible symptoms

Most cosmetics-related injuries are accidental poisonings or chemical burns on the skin or eyes. And your child doesn’t have to swallow very much to start experiencing symptoms.

“These items contain hydrocarbons, alcohol or other chemicals, and swallowing even small amounts can cause serious problems,” Dr. Waters states. Depending on what your child has gotten into, their symptoms may include:

Cosmetics products can also cause eye injuries, which can lead to:

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  • Burning.
  • Tearing.
  • Pain.
  • Blurred vision.

Know when to seek emergency care

The good news is that cosmetics-related injuries are usually treatable and not fatal. But if your child gets ahold of these products, it’s important to get medical help.

“The safest thing to do is to get to the emergency room,” Dr. Waters stresses. “If the child isn’t severely sick and you think their ingestion is mild, it’s reasonable to first call poison control at 1.800.222.1222. They might be able to help you decide whether the child needs to go to the ER.”

Here are a few additional tips, depending on what your child has swallowed or touched and what their symptoms are:

  1. After swallowing something: It’s important not to try to make your kid throw up — yes, even if they’ve ingested something potentially dangerous, like nail polish remover or perfume. Never use ipecac to induce vomiting.
  2. Rashes and chemical burns: “If your child gets into hair products that cause a rash on their skin or burning in their eyes, rinse the affected area with lots of water before taking them to get medical care,” Dr. Waters advises.
  3. Eye injury: If your child has gotten a cosmetic product in their eyes, flush it out with clean water for about 15 minutes, and then seek medical attention to have them assessed.
  4. Breathing issues: “If you notice that your child is having any trouble breathing, call 911 immediately,” Dr. Waters states.

When you arrive in the ER or speak with poison control, be sure to have some important information at the ready:

  • Your child’s age, weight and any health conditions they have.
  • The name of the cosmetic product they swallowed or touched.
  • How much of it they drank, if applicable (and if you know).
  • How long ago the incident took place.
  • What symptoms they’re having.

Where to store problematic products

You’ve seen how prone your toddler is to putting anything and everything in their mouth. So, even if you’ve never seen them reach things on the counter or open a bottle, don’t risk it.

“To keep kids safe, store cosmetic products in the same way you would medications,” Dr. Water recommends, “in locked cabinets out of their reach.”

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