- Reporter: Helen Wellings
- Broadcast Date: September 23, 2008
It smells nice and it’s soothing for baby. But who would think such an old-time product, a nursery staple, could injure and kill?
Baby oil, along with other common household oils for massage, hair, and bath, essential oils, eucalyptus and camphor oils, are responsible for at least 3000 reported ingestion accidents to young children every year in Australia.
Toxicologist Dr Naren Gunja from NSW Poisons Information Centre at Westmead Hospital says most parents don’t realise the danger.
“Once the child has ingested it depending on how much they ingest then it could be too late. Over a period of time, the child can die,” says Dr Gunja.
“It is a gradual process that can take several days, two weeks to die.”
Mums Gabby and Soraya say the drama started when their kids, Natalia, 4, and Gabriel, 3, were playing together. They discovered the two splashing baby oil over them and they’d drunk some.
Soon, both kids were having difficulty breathing. Natalia was also vomiting, Daniel had a rash. An ambulance rushed them to hospital – the doctors’ warnings were grim.
“He listened to his lungs for quite a while and he said ‘he looks ok’ and – this was just horrible – he said ‘look, there’s nothing we can do, this is something that if your child has done this, and it’s in his lungs there is nothing that we can do’,” says Soraya.
When Gabby and Soraya checked the internet for accidents and side-effects they discovered the horrors – in the US, 20 kids a year die from breathing in household oils, 5 deaths are from baby oil. In total, around 80,000 household oil ingestion accidents are reported to the US Poisons Centre yearly.
“The death the child goes through is absolutely horrific, the latest boy to die in America was Jayden Bryson, 18 months old, it took him 28 days to die, he suffocated to death,” explains Soraya.
Why so toxic? Look at the ingredients and you see baby oil, sunscreen oil, bath, body and massage oils, make-up removers, nail enamel dryers, eucalyptus, camphor and clove oils – are all made from mineral oil, a petroleum ingredient from crude oil.
Mineral oils contain hydrocarbons, a real danger to the stomach and especially the lungs – which can stop working.
“A mouthful of baby oil ingested by a child is enough to cause it to vomit and if they breathe that into their lungs that is enough to cause lung inflammation … if enough of that happens it could lead to death,” says Dr Gunja.
Mineral oils are also used for cleaning, as industrial and mechanical lubricants, in cosmetics and even pesticides. And, apart from they’ve been blamed for a range of health problems – allegedly acne, premature ageing of skin, and other skin disorders, impeding normal cell development and possibly causing vitamin deficiency.
Luckily, Gabriel and Natalia survived their ordeal. Seven years ago the US Consumer Product Safety Commission made child-resistant packaging mandatory for oily liquids containing hydrocarbons – like baby oils, bath, body, hair and massage oils, and sunscreens. So, Johnson and Johnson Baby Oil sold in America has the compulsory child-proof lid. Why not in Australia?
Johnson and Johnson wouldn’t appear on camera. The company’s email to Today Tonight says Johnson’s Baby Oil has been sold in Australia for 48 years and that our reports of accidents are the first they’ve received of a potentially serious health issue. Yet, they must be aware it was the accidents and deaths in America that forced them to put child-resistant caps on there.
As a result of Today Tonight’s investigation Johnson & Johnson has informed us that they will after 48 years change to child resistant caps on all its baby oil products in Australia and worldwide.
NSW Poisons Information Centre
Telephone: 13 11 26