From 2006 through 2016, emergency departments treated 64,686 children younger than 5 years old for injuries related to personal care products, according to the results of a new study. That works out to about one child every two hours.

Many consumers are already aware of the dangers posed by cleaning products, batteries and household poisons, but are often unaware of the hazards posed by personal care products. The results of this study shed light on the special threat common cosmetics may pose to small children.

Study investigates cosmetic-related injuries in pediatric patients

Researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital performed a retrospective study using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. They analyzed information emergency department (ED) records for children under the age of 5 years treated in an ED for cosmetic-related injuries for a 15-year period. They published their findings in the journal Clinical Pediatrics on June 17.

Nail care products, hair care products, and skin care products were the top three injury-causing product categories at 28.3%, 27% and 25%, respectively. Fragrance products were associated with 12.7% of the injuries.

The study found that 75.7% of injuries occurred from swallowing the product, and another 19.3% of injuries occurred when the product made contact with the child’s eyes or skin. Poisoning (86.2%) and chemical burns (13.8%) were the most common diagnoses. Nearly 60% of the injuries occurred in children under the age of 2 years.

“When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen,” said co-author of the study, Rebecca McAdams, MA, MPH, in a press release.

McAdams is senior research associate in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's. “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.”

Ease of access is also a concern. Personal care products may appear harmless because they are intended for use on the human body, so most people store shampoo, lotion, makeup, nail polish, cologne and other products in accessible locations. Furthermore, the products are not typically available in childproof containers.

“Children watch their parents use these items and may try to imitate their behavior. 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,” said 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. These simple steps can prevent many injuries and trips to the emergency department.”

Parents and caregivers can reduce the risk of pediatric emergencies associated with personal care products by keeping these products out of the reach of children and out of sight, and by storing products in their original containers.