Are Glow Sticks Dangerous?

By Kathy Adams
A hand holding glow stick
DuncanL/iStock/Getty Images

Glow sticks are generally safe when used according to the instructions on their packages, but misuse -- such as cutting open a glow stick -- is potentially dangerous. Some glow sticks contain glass that may cause injury, and chemicals within the sticks may be harmful if swallowed or if they come into contact with your eyes.

Safe Glow Stick Use

Glow sticks are not all alike, so it is important to read the package instructions detailing how to activate them. All glow sticks are designed to be used as self-contained, sealed glowing novelties; they are not meant to be cut open or used in any way other than as a glow stick. Chemicals inside the glow sticks interact when you activate the glow stick according to package directions. Eventually, the glowing effect dies out and cannot be reactivated.

Glass Danger

Some types of glow sticks keep the chemicals separated before activation by having one of the chemicals in a glass vial inside the plastic glow-stick tube. When you squeeze or bend the glow stick, you break the glass, allowing the inner liquid to mix with the liquid surrounding the vial, causing the glowing reaction. If the stick is taken apart, this broken glass could cause potential danger. The shards are also tiny and could cause serious injury if ingested. Do not continue bending or folding a glow stick once it has already been activated, as this may eventually puncture the outer plastic.

Chemical Reaction

Some of the chemicals inside glow sticks are low in toxicity, but may cause skin or eye irritation. Children or pets chewing on a glow stick may accidentally bite through the outer plastic. Dibutyl phthalate, found in some glow sticks, is not a major health risk, but may irritate skin, eyes or mouth. The glow sticks with glass vials inside contain a strong version of hydrogen peroxide, phthalic ester and phenyl oxalate ester -- any of these chemicals may cause irritation to skin, eyes, mouth or mucous membranes. Rinse off or rinse out any area exposed to glow-stick chemicals and contact a poison control center if the substance has been ingested.

Plastic Shell

The plastic shell or body of the glow stick may be hazardous under certain circumstances. Sometimes children twirl glow sticks around in the dark to enjoy the light displays. Twirling the stick too close to another child may result in eye injury. It may be tempting to play catch with a glow stick after dark, but visual perception may be greatly reduced in limited lighting situations, resulting in an eye injury. Thin, flexible glow sticks in particular pose a choking hazard, especially if the stick is bent in half and swallowed.

About the Author

Kathy Adams won several investigative journalism awards from the Associated Press. Adams has ghostwritten several books and content for A-list musicians' websites. She is equally at home repurposing furniture and found objects into art as she is managing bands and community gardening efforts, running non-profit organizations and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals.