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Products that resemble foods and appeal to children Potential risks of accidental ingestion

4. What could make those products dangerous to swallow?

  • 4.1 Which products are most harmful?
  • 4.2 What ingredients are most harmful?

4.1 Which products are most harmful?

Ingesting household cleaning products is more harmful than ingesting cosmetic.
Ingesting household cleaning products is more harmful than ingesting cosmetics.
Credit: Sanja Gjenero

Swallowing cosmetics is unlikely to cause any serious health effects either for children or elderly people, although some, such as nail polish, can contain more toxic substances. Ingesting other household products is potentially more harmful.

Household products frequently involved in accidental poisonings are detergents, cleaners and bleaches.

Some of their constituents are not very toxic when considered individually but when combined, can have worse effects than each component separately. The damage they cause also depends on the amount ingested, the contact time, the pH of the substance and whether it is a solid or a liquid. More...

4.2 What ingredients are most harmful?

4.2.1 Corrosives substances – acids and bases - such as bleach or oven and drain cleaners are responsible for severe accidental poisonings from household products, and can cause severe burns to the oesophagus and stomach and even perforations that can be potentially fatal.

The most common symptoms following a corrosive ingestion are difficulty swallowing, drooling, feeding refusal, abdominal pain and vomiting. More...

4.2.2 Essential oils have been used as a common cold remedy in medicine, as indoor air fresheners or conditioners in the household, for aromatherapy, in stain removers or other cleaning agents, in cosmetics, and also in industry, for example as a fat solvent.

The toxicity of individual essential oils varies, and specific data on poisonings is sparse, but a few oils have been singled out in poisoning cases. These are:

  • Pine oil, which is a common component of cleaning solutions and is found in numerous household cleaning preparations. Because of its low viscosity and high volatility it can enter and damage the lungs.
  • Wintergreen oil is a strongly aromatic with a sweet woody odour. Oil of Wintergreen may be used as a topical ointment or medicated oil for the relief of musculoskeletal pain and common colds. One teaspoon (5 ml) of it contains as much active ingredient as approximately 22 adult aspirin tablets, and can cause serious poisoning.
  • Camphor is a common ingredient in many ointments. When swallowed it can cause irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea and vomiting, and it can also have neurological effects such as seizures, hallucinations, and coma.  


4.2.3 Most detergents contain surfactants which remove dirt, stains, and soil from surfaces or textiles.

Surfactants are usually not directly poisonous. Foaming is the predominant problem, which can lead to vomiting, abdominal pain, flatulence and diarrhoea. In some cases, vomiting or the formation of foam in the mouth can lead the substance to enter the lungs. More...

4.2.4 Alcohols are used as solvents in cosmetic and household detergents. Mouthwashes containing alcohol, for instance, have great potential to be drunk in large quantities by children because they are made to look enticing, taste good, and are present in most homes. More...

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