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Aftershave poisoning

Aftershave is a lotion, gel, or liquid applied to the face after shaving. Many men use it. This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing aftershave products.

This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

The harmful ingredients in aftershave are:

  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol)

Aftershave may contain other harmful substances.

Where Found

Aftershaves are sold under various brand names.

Symptoms

Symptoms of aftershave poisoning may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Change in alertness level (may become unconscious)
  • Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
  • Eye irritation (burning, redness, tears)
  • Headache
  • Low body temperature
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Nausea and vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Stupor
  • Throat pain
  • Unable to walk normally
  • Urination difficulties (too much or too little urine output)

Isopropanol may cause these other symptoms:

Children are especially prone to developing low blood sugar, which may cause these symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

If the person can swallow normally, give them water or milk, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give water or milk if they have symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • A decreased level of alertness

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Dialysis (kidney machine)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Laxative
  • Medicine to treat the effects of the poison
  • Tube from the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)

Outlook (Prognosis)

Aftershave poisoning is more common in small children than in older children or adults. Alcoholics may drink aftershave when other alcohol runs out.

The outcome depends on how much the person swallows. The range of illness may vary from a condition similar to being drunk to coma, seizures, and severe lung problems. A product with more isopropyl alcohol could cause a more serious illness. Complications, such as pneumonia, muscle damage from lying on a hard surface for a prolonged period of time, or brain damage from lack of oxygen, may cause permanent disability.

Aftershave poisoning is not usually deadly.

References

Berk W, Henderson W. Alcohols. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 166.

Finnell JT. Alcohol-related disease. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 185.

Jacobsen D, Hovda KE. Methanol, ethylene glycol, and other toxic alcohols. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 32.

White SR. Toxic alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 155.

Zosel AE. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 143.

Update Date 10/14/2015

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.