Shampoo, nail polish and skin care products are sending kids to ER, new study

Cosmetics are sending kids to emergency - here's what you need to know.
Cosmetics are sending kids to emergency - here's what you need to know. Photo: Shutterstock

A new study has found that shampoo, nail care and perfume products are sending thousands of kids to emergency - highlighting the need for parents to keep cosmetics locked away and out of reach of children.

The research, conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital and published in the journal Clinical Pediatricsfound that an estimated 64,686 children younger than five years of age were treated in US emergency departments for injuries related to personal care products between 2002 and 2016.

That works out to around one child every two hours.

The leading cause of injuries were associated with nail care (28 per cent), followed by hair care (27 per cent), skin care (25 per cent) and fragrances (12.7 per cent). Children under two were the most frequently injured.

Nail polish remover was the product leading to the highest number of visits to hospital (17 per cent of all injuries) while hair relaxers and permanent dyes resulted in the most serious injuries, often requiring hospitalisation.

Injuries occurred most commonly when a child swallowed a product (75 per cent) or it made contact with their skin or eyes (19.3 per cent). The most frequent diagnosis was poisoning (86 per cent) followed by chemical burns (14 per cent).

"When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen," said study co-author Rebecca McAdams. "Kids this age can't read, so they don't know what they are looking at. They see a bottle with a colourful 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 yoghurt, serious injuries can occur."

According to Ms McAdams, parents aren't vigilant enough when it comes to storing beauty products.

"Children watch their parents use these items and may try to imitate their behaviour," she says. "Since these products are often stored in easy-to-reach places and are not typically in child-resistant containers, it is can be easy for kids to get to and open the bottles."


Ms McAdams says it's vital that parents put items away immediately and store them up, away and out of sight, preferably in a locked cabinet. " These simple steps can prevent many injuries and trips to the emergency department."

Researchers suggests parents and caregivers follow these safety tips:

  • Up, away and out of sight. Store all personal care products safely: up, away and out of sight - in a cabinet that can be locked or latched is best. Never leave personal care products out unattended and put them away immediately after use.
  • Store safely now. It is never too soon to start practicing safe storage. 
  • Original containers. Keep all personal care products in their original containers.
  • Know how to get help fast: You can call the Poisons Information Line 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia on 13 11 26. Have this number saved in your phone.

KidSafe Australia adds the following:

  • Never try to induce vomiting.
  • Pick up the product container and take it with you to the phone - the Poisons Information Centre will want to know what ingredients are in the product.

A 2018 analysis of calls received by the Australian Poisons Information Centres, published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that of the 204 906 calls to Australian PICs in 2015, 36 per cent related to one - four year olds. In this age group, household cleaning substances and personal care items were the items toddlers and preschoolers were most likely to be exposed to.

Find more information on kids and poisons here