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Chemicals and Skin – Not a Pleasant Reaction

Petroleum distillates, ammonia, sodium hypochlorite, sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid. What do these chemicals have in common? Not only do they have tongue twisting names, all of these chemicals, and more, are serious skin harming substances. Common ingredients in many household cleaners, these chemicals can do major damage if they come into contact with skin, and can cause chemical burns and rashes (not to mention a host of respiratory, eye and other bodily irritation).

Most chemical burns in the home occur accidentally, from cleaning, spilling or coming into contact with household cleaners on surfaces unknowingly. Usually on the face, eyes, arms and legs, the exact symptoms of a chemical burn depend on the chemical involved, and a chemical burn or rash will develop in the location where the chemical touched the skin. It may appear simply as a red area on the skin or may blister if more severe. The skin may peel or break out in hives, may feel sore or itch and may become very painful, either immediately or a few hours after the initial exposure.

In addition, chemical burns can be deceiving. Not only can topical skin damage occur, chemicals absorbed through the skin can cause greater damage to internal organs and tissues which are not readily apparent when you first look at the burn.

So how do you protect your skin from exposure to these harsh substances? First and foremost, eliminating them from the home is the best place to start. If you do keep chemicals in the home, storing them in a secure, locked cabinet is advised to prevent accidents and contact with children and pets. Replacing conventional cleaners with non-toxic, safe cleaners is recommended, and choosing eco-friendly and ‘green’ cleaning services instead of conventional is your best bet to reduce exposure to chemicals inside of the home.

If you have experienced a burn, make sure you take care of it immediately. First aid should be given immediately after a chemical burn occurs. All traces of the chemical should be removed from the surface of the skin and any clothing or jewelry that came in contact with the chemical should also be removed. The burned skin should be rinsed in cool water for 15 to 20 minutes.

If the burn is severe, showing signs of blistering or tissue damage, the individual should report to a hospital. At the hospital, the doctor will want to know what caused the burn and what first aid has been applied. The doctor may clean the wound and apply an appropriate neutralizing substance. She may also cover the burn with a protective dressing and apply a topical antibiotic cream to stave off any secondary infections.

Once all immediate danger has passed and you have completed basic first aid, call your doctor to review your injury and the chemical involved to make sure you need no further emergency treatment. Remember – any chemical burn can be a legitimate reason to summon emergency medical help. Always err on the side of safety and call 911 if you don’t know the severity of the injury, medical stability of the person injured, or if you have any concerns about a chemical injury.

Not sure how to treat a chemical burn? WebMD can answer some of your basic questions.