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Doctors Warn Of Girls Self-Harming With Deodorant Burns

WARNING: This article contains descriptions of self-harm.

Doctors are warning of young girls using aerosol deodorant to self-harm, which can leave distinctive lesions and, in some cases, lead to skin necrosis.

In a letter to the Australasian Journal of Dermatology, a group of physicians warned it was becoming an "increasingly common" method of self-harm amongst school-aged children.

The letter presented cases of two girls from the UK, aged 11 and 16, both of whom had used aerosol cans to self-harm, resulting in painful blistering skin.

The 16-year-old had such severe burns up her legs as a result of this practice that she was having difficulty walking.

Source: Getty.

Dr. Caroline Mahon, a dermatologist who treated both patients and is lead author of the paper, told 10 daily that in both cases, the girls' GPs had not recognised the characteristic circular wounds, and sent them to hospital multiple times.

In the case of the 16-year-old girl, doctors initially believed the lesions were cellulitis, and put the patient on antibiotics, according to Mahon.

However, when the patient was eventually referred to dermatology, doctors recognised the signs straight away, and a biopsy gave them "confirmation they were on the right track".

Mahon published her findings in order to raise awareness of the "distinctive" features.

Source: Getty Images

The damage inflicted by aerosol burns is severe, with the doctors noting there was deep injury to the layers of the skin and evidence of necrosis (cell death) at the site of the burns. (10 daily has chosen not to publish the images.)

When a deodorant can is held to the skin, the temperature at the site can range from minus 2 degrees Celsius down to minus 40 after a sustained 20-second spray.

Mahon noted the girls likely did not realise the extent of the scarring they had induced with their self-harm; the wounds will likely cause permanent marks on the skin.

This isn't the first time that self-harm with aerosol cans has been described in medical literature.

In 2018, three Australian researchers reported 'frosties' (deliberate cold skin burns caused by deodorant) appearing more frequently in clinics.

The average age of patients presenting with these self-inflicted injuries was 13 years old, and they were overwhelmingly female (70 percent).

Source: Getty.

The Australian doctors reported that the severity of 'frosties' on the skin is often underestimated by the people inflicting self-harm, and medical attention is rarely sought after the burn.

Of the 45 cases they described, 10 patients needed a skin graft.

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In the 2018 report, physicians noted that, besides being an indicator of psychological distress, the injuries can also be encouraged by peers as a test of 'courage' through social media.

The 'aerosol challenge' or 'deodorant challenge' began appearing on social media around 2014, with one video of Brazilian Youtubers using aerosol cans to burn one another clocking up nearly six million views.

'Deodorant spray challenge'. Source: La Fenix Youtube.

"Particular behaviours come in and out of fashion within peer groups over time; branding with a heated lighter ('smilies'), drug taking, extreme selfies, drink driving and frosties are all manifestations of this phenomenon," the authors said.

However, researchers stressed that 'frosties' performed as an act of self-harm could indicate other worrying behaviours in the future, with up to 80 percent of people presenting with 'frosties' going on to perform other acts of self-harm.

The authors of the new letter want doctors to be able to recognise the distinctive wounds so that earlier intervention is possible in self-harm cases.

Mahon, who is now with Starship Hospital at the University of Auckland, said if the teen girls' lesions had been identified faster, further self-harm could have been prevented.

To talk to somebody about issues raised in this article, call BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, or speak to your GP.