Amid the ongoing peaceful protests and powerful demonstrations being held to combat police brutality, images of protestors enveloped in tear gas fired by law enforcement are making the rounds online. Some of the photos depict American citizens pouring milk and water on their faces to calm their irritated skin and eyes immediately after coming in contact with the substance — showing just how brutal the effects are.
Although tear gas is considered a non-lethal chemical weapon, exposure is still known to cause eye pain, chest tightness, coughing, vomiting, and increased nasal secretions, among other painful and uncomfortable symptoms. The use of tear gas in wartime combat was outlawed by nearly every country in the world in 1993, but U.S. law enforcement is still authorized to use it domestically during times of civil unrest. Just earlier this week, the Trump Administration ordered the use of tear gas outside of the White House against peaceful protesters coming together in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to clear the path for the president's photo op.
Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization focused on human rights, is warning protesters to stay prepared as more demonstrations are expected. A warning listed on their safety resource document shows that your go-to beauty products could worsen the side effects of the chemical weapon. Vaseline, mineral oil, and other oil-based moisturizers and sunscreens, along with oils and lotions, are among the products that can prolong the effects of tear gas on your face and body, so they should be avoided.
Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and founder of BeautyStat, says that Vaseline and other heavy oils generally aren't a good idea when it comes to skin damage like burns, as they can cling to certain substances and further irritate the area. That same concept applies to skin coming in contact with a chemical weapon. "It may trap chemicals on the skin that could cause irritation," Robinson says.
Amnesty International does urge protestors to wear gas masks, goggles, or respirators on their faces and clothing covering the entire body. Still, with the lack of resources amid a global pandemic and the high temperatures as we approach summer, full head-to-toe coverage isn't realistic for everyone. So, if you must leave any areas of your skin exposed, it's essential to make sure your products won't exacerbate the situation.