What to do: Skin exposures

A very soiled hand. Skin exposures

Your skin is your largest organ, and it does a very good job of protecting everything inside you. Some products are caustic enough to damage your skin but very few are absorbed into your body. Treating skin exposures is usually pretty simple, but sometimes more care is needed.

What to do for skin exposures

Wash with soap and water

This is the most important treatment for every skin exposure. For irritating or corrosive substances first wash gently, then irrigate with copious amounts of running water.

Don’t soak instead

Don’t soak instead of using running water. That can prolong the exposure instead of removing the substance from the skin.

How long to do it

Most skin exposures only need a simple wash and rinse, but some (eg, drain openers) may need longer irrigation and some (eg, super glue, jalapeno peppers) may need more than just washing.  Call poison control (800-222-1222) for specific recommendations.

Don’t try to neutralize

Don’t try to neutralize an acid by adding baking soda, or an alkali by adding vinegar. Neutralization is a powerful chemical reaction that breaks molecular bonds and releases energy in the form of heat; this can be more damaging than the original exposure.

The proper treatment for these exposures is irrigation with copious amounts of running water. Begin irrigation immediately and call poison control for advice on what to do next.

What to expect

This is highly variable and depends on the product. However, most household products have mild effects, if any.

Getting medical care

Generally speaking, you need medical care for skin exposures that cause injury or pain, especially if the face, hands or genitals are involved. There are a few products that have special risks or need specific treatment, but always start with irrigation.

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