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First Aid for Sunscreen Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 27, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Sunscreen Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (swallowing) of any product containing the compound.

What is Sunscreen Poisoning?

  • Sunscreen is a healthcare product that helps protect the body from damage due to sunlight. It may be in the form of a topical cream or lotion and is generally non-toxic
  • Sunscreens are present as two main types - one containing a mineral filter, while the other a chemical filter (or a combination of both). Each type contains different chemicals, some of which are toxic for consumption
  • Sunscreen 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)

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

  • Sunscreen Toxicity
  • Swallowing Sunscreen

What are the Causes of Sunscreen Poisoning?

  • Sunscreen Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of sunscreen products
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • The toxic substance in sunscreens may include:
    • Mineral filters: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, etc.
    • Chemical filters: Agents such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, salicylates, etc.

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 Sunscreen Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Sunscreen Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Sunscreen Poisoning may include:

  • Breathing difficulties and wheezing (if an allergic reaction develops)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach upsets
  • Skin rashes
  • If eye exposure occurs, then it can result in redness, watery eyes, and irritation

How is First Aid administered for Sunscreen Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Sunscreen 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
  • 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:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Sunscreen Poisoning?

First aid for Sunscreen 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 Sunscreen Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Sunscreen 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. In many cases of small/mild intoxication with sunscreen, the outcome is good
  • In case of severe symptoms, it may considerably worsen the outcome. Children are affected much more than adults
    • Swallowing alcohol-based sunscreens may cause euphoria and other ‘drunk’ like behavior
    • Swallowing salicylates-based sunscreens may result in symptoms observed during an aspirin overdose
    • Swallowing chemical filter sunscreens are generally worse than ingesting mineral filter sunscreens

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 Sunscreen Poisoning be Prevented?

Sunscreen 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
  • Being 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 9, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 27, 2018