Cosmetics injure thousands of children every year

US research finds nail polish, haircare products and fragrances lead to poisonings. Andrew Masterson reports.

Kids and cosmetics can be cute, but it can also be a very dangerous combination.

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In the US, almost 65,000 children under five years old were admitted to hospital over a 15-year period as a result of injuries caused by cosmetic-related products.

The startling figures are revealed in a study conducted by researchers from the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, and published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.

Rebecca McAdams and colleagues found that there was no significant reduction over the years in the number of children rushed to emergency departments following harmful encounters with cosmetics and personal care products, with the rate remaining steady at 1.1 per 10,000.

The most common injury was poisoning, with nail-care items responsible for 28.3% of cases, followed by hair-care chemicals at 27%, and skincare at 25%. Fragrances accounted for most of the remainder.

Hair products tended to result in more serious injuries requiring hospitalisation, accounting for more than half of ward admissions, with hair relaxers and perming fluids being the most common culprits.

The colourful packaging and fruity aromas used in marketing cosmetics present significant dangers for young children, says McAdams.

“When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen,” she says.

“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 yogurt, serious injuries can occur.”

She added that many children try to imitate parental behaviours, and will therefore play with bottles and lotions they have seen used. Rarely are cosmetic products kept under lock and key – but perhaps they should be.

“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,” she says.

The researchers also recommend that paediatricians be encouraged to advise parents and caregivers about the danger of poorly stored beauty products.

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