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First Aid for Hair Straightener Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 28, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Hair Straightener Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. An exposure can also take place inadvertently when the lotion affects the skin or eyes.

What is Hair Straightener Poisoning?

  • Hair straighteners or hair relaxers are thick creams that are used to straighten curly or wavy hair
  • Hair Straightener Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. An exposure can also take place inadvertently when the lotion affects the skin or eyes
  • 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)

Hair Straightener Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Hair Relaxer Poisoning
  • Hair Straightener Toxicity
  • Hair-Smoothing Product Poisoning

What are the Causes of Hair Straightener Poisoning?

  • Hair Straightener Poisoning is caused by the ingestion or inhalation of chemical hair straightening creams or pastes. Exposure of the eye or skin to the substance may cause injury too
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Hair straighteners are a complex mix of chemicals that include formaldehyde, ammonium thioglycolate (ATG), mineral oil, sodium/calcium hydroxide, and other caustic chemicals

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 Hair Straightener Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Hair Straightener Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • On exposure to the eye - watering or redness of eyes; eye irritation
  • Blurred vision; loss of vision
  • Burning pain in the mouth, throat, and in the food-pipe (rarely, perforation of the food-pipe)
  • This may involve the eyes, nose, and ears
  • Skin irritation and rash (on exposure to skin); blister formation
  • Deep skin tissue burns, resulting in holes
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Blood in stool or vomit
  • Cramping stomach or abdominal pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Swollen throat causing swallowing and breathing difficulties
  • Sudden decrease in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Reduced blood sugar or hypoglycemia, causing weakness and lethargy
  • Change in blood pH levels, resulting in several organs being affected
  • Collapse

How is First Aid administered for Hair Straightener Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Hair Straightener 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 skin exposure or 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 compound 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
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • 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 Hair Straightener Poisoning?

First aid for Hair Straightener 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 Hair Straightener Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Hair Straightener 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. With prompt treatment, severe eye and skin exposure symptoms may be avoided
  • Severe exposure of body organs (throat, gastrointestinal tract including stomach) to the chemical can lead to complications/infections and irreversible damage. In some cases, the damage may progress for weeks and months

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 Hair Straightener Poisoning be Prevented?

Hair Straightener Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Using appropriate protective wear when working with or using such chemicals
  • 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 30, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 28, 2018