The Full Story
Winter is coming and, hopefully, so is snow! But if you don't get snow where you live you'll have to turn your home into a winter wonderland with artificial snow. There are two main kinds of artificial snow: powders and spray-on aerosols.
The powders that turn into artificial snow flakes when mixed with water are sometimes called instant snow. The mixture is almost entirely water (99%), but a very small amount is made out of a non-toxic polymer. The spray-on artificial snow products are called snow spray, flocking snow, or holiday snow. Once these aerosol products are sprayed, chemicals (solvents and propellants) evaporate, leaving behind a snow-like residue. The residue is made of mostly fat or calcium.
Both types of products are unlikely to cause poisoning when swallowed since they are both poorly absorbed and are made of materials that are rarely harmful. However, because the powder products expand when wet, they could become a choking hazard and cause intestinal blockage if the powder is swallowed before being mixed with water. If swallowed, rinse the mouth and offer sips of water to soothe any mouth irritation and to clear the throat.
The spray-on artificial snow can contain a solvent called methylene chloride that evaporates quickly. Like all aerosols, they should not be sprayed in an area with poor air flow, in a small, closed space, or near flames. Inhalation of methylene chloride can cause toxicity depending on the severity of the exposure. Mild symptoms can include headache, nausea, mild drowsiness, giddiness, and unsteadiness or difficulty walking. If there is severe exposure, it is possible to experience symptoms such as fainting, heart palpitations, seizures, and chest pain.
Artificial snow on the skin can cause irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin. The product should be washed off well with soap and water to minimize irritation.
Getting artificial snow in the eyes might cause mild pain and redness. However, there is the potential for serious eye injuries if the product is sprayed directly into the face. Immediately rinsing the eyes gently with comfortable temperature water will help limit further problems.
If you think someone might be having adverse effects from an artificial snow product, immediately call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or check the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for help. Whether you call or log on, expert assistance is available 24 hours a day.
Diana N. Pei, PharmD, BS
Certified Specialist in Poison Information
- Make sure that there is adequate ventilation while using aerosol products; do not use them in a small space.
- Do not use artificial snow products near open flames.
- Keep artificial snow products out of reach of children and pets.
This Really Happened
Case 1. An 11-year-old boy was playing with an instant snow product when he unintentionally inhaled some of the powder. His brother called Poison Control because the boy was still coughing 30 minutes later. Poison Control researched the product's ingredients and found that they might be irritating to the lungs. Poison Control instructed the family to monitor for severe symptoms such as worsening cough, fever, or shortness of breath. The next day the boy's coughing had improved greatly.
Case 2. A 5-year-old girl touched sprayed-on snow and then touched her eye. Her eye was not swollen or red, but her mother was concerned because the girl had sensitive skin. Poison Control recommended gently irrigating her eyes, washing her hands with soap and water, and giving an antihistamine. The girl felt much better afterward and returned to normal.
Case 3. A 3½-year-old boy sprayed artificial snow directly into his mouth. His mother followed Poison Control's advice and immediately rinsed out his mouth. When Poison Control followed up the following day, the boy had no symptoms.
Case 4. A 5½-year-old boy ate a pinch of instant snow. He said it tasted horrible. Poison Control told his mother to give him something to drink to help with the taste and then to keep him well hydrated. The boy had no symptoms when Poison Control followed up the next day.