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First Aid for Depilatory Poisoning

Last updated March 4, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Depilatories are cosmetic chemical compounds used for hair removal from the body. They work by breaking down and dissolving the hair follicle bond (at the skin surface); the applied chemical cream is then removed/scraped off, along-with the detached hair. Depilatory Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (swallowing) of any product containing the compound.


What is Depilatory Poisoning?

  • Depilatories are cosmetic chemical compounds used for hair removal from the body. They work by breaking down and dissolving the hair follicle bond (at the skin surface); the applied chemical cream is then removed/scraped off, along-with the detached hair
  • Depilatory Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (swallowing) of any product containing the compound
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Depilatory Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Chemical Depilatory Poisoning
  • Depilatory Toxicity
  • Hair Removal Cream Poisoning

What are the Causes of Depilatory Poisoning?

  • Depilatory Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of depilatory products that are available as creams, lotions, gels, and sprays
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Depilatories contain several chemicals including sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, barium sulfide, calcium or potassium thioglycolate, etc. Some of these chemicals are very toxic to humans

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depilatory Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Depilatory Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body, such as the vascular system, digestive system, respiratory system, nervous system, skin and ENT may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Depilatory Poisoning may include:

  • Burning and associated pain in the mouth and throat; drooling from the mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Speaking and swallowing difficulties
  • If the substance gets in the eye, then eye irritation and pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Skin rashes
  • Decrease in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Feeling dizzy, lack of coordinated movement
  • Low level of alertness
  • Urination difficulties; absence of urine
  • Collapse and coma

How is First Aid administered for Depilatory Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Depilatory Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Otherwise, following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give milk or water to drink
  • In case of symptoms that indicate difficulty in swallowing including vomiting or decreased alertness, do not give anything by way of mouth
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the product bottle/container to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the chemical from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Following this, a suitable skin or eye ointment may be used to treat the exposure
  • Surgical treatment for skin burns including removal of burnt skin
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Depilatory Poisoning?

First aid for Depilatory Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Depilatory Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Depilatory Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good
  • Severe exposure of body organs (mouth, throat, gastrointestinal tract including stomach) to the chemical can lead to complications (internal bleeding and infection) and irreversible damage

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Depilatory Poisoning be Prevented?

Depilatory Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any chemical product
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Most depilatories are not meant for application on one’s face, unless informed otherwise by the manufacturers
  • Be aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 10, 2017
Last updated: March 4, 2018