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 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
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
4.2 What ingredients are most harmful?
Corrosives substances –
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
difficulty swallowing, drooling, feeding refusal, abdominal pain
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
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
- 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.
Most detergents contain
surfactants which remove dirt, stains, and soil from surfaces or
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
Alcohols are used as solvents in cosmetic and household
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