"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Hair styling tools pose burn risk to children: study

October 24, 2023 – For parents and caregivers, stovetops and burning candles are amongst probably the most common warning signs of burn risk, especially in young children. But there's one other offender lurking on bathroom and vanity counters which will go unnoticed: hair care or styling tools.

A study presented last weekend on the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics highlighted the growing risk of hair styling devices in children and adolescents. The results showed that there have been greater than 30,000 burn injuries and over 1,000 emergency room visits for care between 2013 and 2022. Additionally, roughly 68% of those injuries occurred in children under 10 years of age, and nearly three-quarters occurred at home.

“If you think about it, it is developmental to show a high level of curiosity at a younger age because they have not yet fully learned the dangers associated with certain things. A curling iron, for example, could be left on the counter to cool, potentially leading to someone reaching for it,” said the study's lead author, Dr. Brandon Rozanski, a pediatrics resident at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, HI.

Rozanski said those numbers likely underestimate this problem. (For their research, he and his colleagues relied on information from a national surveillance database that only tracks emergency room visits.)

“If they went to their GP or were just treated at home, that won’t be taken into account,” he explained. “So I suspect that this is actually more common than our study shows.”

Burns in children are a worldwide problem

The CDC says so435 children and adolescents between the ages of 0 and 19 are treated in the emergency room every day for burn injuries. And the World Health Organization reports that burns occur fifth lead Cause of non-fatal injuries in children.

Most of these burns involve scalds from liquids or steam (particularly in younger children) or from direct contact with fire or flames (particularly in adolescents and adolescents). Rozanski said his study showed that hair styling tools, curlers and curling irons accounted for 97.4% of burn injuries, followed by hair dryers, hair care accessories or devices and combs (including electric combs).

Prabhu Senthil-Kumar, MD, a burn specialist specializing in plastic surgery and reconstructive procedures at Virginia Commonwealth University Health's Evans-Haynes Burn Center in Richmond, pointed out that not only the hair tools but the products used with them can do this too be dangerous.

“The products used for hair styling contain chemicals in different concentrations and formulations. These products are often designed for adults whose skin is thicker and more robust and who can tolerate them at the intended dosage. But if a child touches or uses the product, a chemical burn may occur,” he said.

Senthil-Kumar also noted that sometimes “emissions-based” hair products, such as those containing alcohol, can also ignite when used with a curler.

An ounce of prevention

While most hair styling burns in children are no more serious than second degree, meaning blistering occurs, some may require hospitalization or transfer to a burn unit. The CDC reported that about two out of 435 children who visit the emergency room each day for a burn emergency died from their injuries—injuries that are highly preventable.

“One thing that has always struck me is the age-appropriate use of these tools,” Rozanski said. “I recommend parents probably not allow children to use them unsupervised or even under supervision until they have demonstrated an understanding of the dangers in their teens.”

Both Rozanski and Senthil-Kumar also noted that these devices, particularly hair dryers, can reach temperatures of up to 450 F in minutes, highlighting the need to keep them out of reach of roving eyes and hands so they have time to dry have to cool down. Hair care products should also be kept away from children and stored in cupboards out of sight.

If burns occur, Senthil-Kumar says he advises parents or caregivers to move the child to safety, away from the device, remove tight clothing and rinse the area with room temperature tap water. Be careful not to rub the area. Ideally, they should go to a hospital or emergency room, especially if the burns occur on the scalp or face.

“Burns often occur,” he said. “It depends on how much heat was generated and how long it lasted [child] had been exposed to heat given the depth of the injury and the type of treatment required. What you see at the time of injury will not be the same 24 hours later.”

Finally, the very best strategy is situational awareness. When it involves burns, this could make a giant difference.