Chemicals In Our Baby Products

You’re out shopping for Baby, and you see a product labeled “All natural!” or “Baby Safe!” or “Mother Approved!” It must be a healthy product… right? Unfortunately, advertising labels are not regulated. If you want to know what you are exposing your baby to, read the ingredients list – not the advertising label. I wish I could tell you one brand or one company that has great products across the board, but unfortunately, many companies have some great products while simultaneously having other products loaded with chemicals. (I’ll give some examples of this in each section.) If you want to make an informed decision about what products to use, read on. But first, let’s discuss whether or not chemical exposure in our baby products has an impact on your family.

Baby shampoo, lotion and cream

Do chemicals enter our bodies through our skin?

Think of the organs in our bodies. Our lungs absorb oxygen. Our digestive system absorbs nutrients. Our bodies are designed to absorb. We often forget that our skin is an organ. Just like other organs, the skin absorbs. In fact, according to a report by Down to Earth (1), studies show that our skin absorbs 64% of chemicals that come into contact with our skin, and the skin on our face and genitalia is even more absorbent – up to 100%. Think about how our skin absorbs medicines through transdermal patches for things like nicotine, birth control, and motion sickness. Our skin absorbs the medicines and sends it straight into our bloodstream. Why wouldn’t our skin – your baby’s skin – do the same when it comes to chemicals in our products? The Huffington Post shared results of the Environmental Working Group’s study (2) in 2004 on what chemicals were absorbed into the bloodstream and found in the cordblood of newborn babies. They found 208 toxins that are known to cause developmental issues and birth defects. Clearly, these chemicals do enter our bodies.

What do these chemicals do?

Many of the chemicals in our skin care and cleaning products contain carcinogens (which cause cancer), endocrine disrupters (which cause disturbances in the body’s hormones), neurotoxins (which upset the nervous system) and irritants that can lead to asthma and allergies with repeated exposure.

Why is it especially important to limit chemical exposure for babies?

As was mentioned earlier, the skin covering genitalia has an absorption rate of up to 100%. Think of all the things we put on our babies’ tender bottoms – diapers, rash cream, diaper wipes, soap. Our babies’ bottoms are in contact with these things 24/7.

Even more importantly, babies’ skin is not as developed as adults’ skin to block out harmful substances according to a report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (3). The epidermis of infants is not as thick as the epidermis of adults, and the keratin layer is also more permeable in infants, allowing more chemicals to be absorbed. An article by Peter Lio, MD (4) also points out that infants have immature drug metabolism systems and detoxification systems.

How do you check for chemicals?

Don’t look at the advertising labels on products; look at the ingredients or materials list. Generally, the less ingredients, the better. If you can pronounce all of them, that’s a good sign. However, if the ingredients list leaves you clueless, you can search for the product at EWG’s Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics (5) or EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (6) to see if they have it listed. EWG provides a nifty graph showing the amount of concern for cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, overall hazard, and use restrictions. Underneath the graph, the ingredients are listed with an explanation of what each ingredient is and what its risk is. Choose what level of risk you are personally comfortable with.

If you have a smart phone with a barcode scanner, you can download the EWG’s free app to Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics. While you’re shopping, just scan the barcode of a product to see if it is in EWG’s database and read the information!

What to do with gifts high in chemicals?

We received a lot of gifts high in chemicals. We are also in a financial situation where we cannot afford to be picky. We did use up diapers and wipes even if they were brands high in chemicals. Some of the lotions and soaps we were given could not be used because my skin is extremely sensitive, and I would break out in an allergic reaction to some of the chemicals and fragrances just by giving my baby a bath. For gifts such as those, we returned it to the store in exchange for a store gift card. If we couldn’t exchange it, we donated it to co-ops and pregnancy centers. That way, the gift was still helpful to someone. No matter what we received, we were always grateful for every gift from our loving friends and family.

Product Examples using EWG ratings:

Baby Powder

This one is easy. No baby powder. At all. Our hospital newborn classes informed us that the effects of inhaling baby powder are so dangerous, they’d like to see baby powder removed from the shelves. No matter how careful you are, those tiny particles are sure to puff into the air and get breathed in by you and Baby. Some baby powders, including the popular Johnson’s Baby Powder (7), are talc-based and can include asbestos. Others have silica. Yikes. Save your money and skip powder entirely. For more information, you can read this article (8) at Healthy Child.

Baby Oil

The main ingredient to watch out for with baby oil is “fragrance” since this can mean anything. Johnson’s Baby Oil (9) contains unknown ingredients for fragrance – meaning, you don’t really know what you are putting on your baby’s skin. One product that lists all ingredients used is Badger Baby Oil, Chamomile and Calendula (10) and is therefore a good alternative. Even better, you can simply use cold-pressed coconut oil, which is even naturally antibacterial.

Diaper Cream

When looking for a diaper cream, you want something that will protect Baby’s skin and also soothe it. Treating a rash is not the time for unknown fragrances. Personally, I am uncomfortable putting hormone disrupting chemicals on genitals. Be on the lookout for ingredients that have “paraben” at the end of a word, retinyl acetate (Vitamin A acetate), and talc. Unfortunately, popular creams and ointments include these harsh ingredients, such as A+D Original Diaper Rash Ointment (11), Desitin (12), and Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (13). My favorite cream for diaper rash is Honest Diaper Rash Cream (14).

Disposable Diapers

Ever notice that fresh fragrance of a new diaper? It smells nice, but that is a lot of chemicals for Baby to sit in 24/7 – especially if Baby has a rash with broken skin. Diapers are packed full of fragrance, lotions, dyes, pigments, inks, bleach, phthalates, and absorption-enhancing chemicals such as SAP. Some types of ink may have heavy metals. If you can’t find an ingredient/materials list for a brand of diapers, skip it (although you may need to look online rather than on the package).

What do these chemicals mean for Baby? To put it simply, these chemicals can cause  asthma and other respiratory problems, cancer, nervous system disruptions, and skin allergies. I know many moms have had to switch diaper brands due to their babies getting diaper rashes as allergic reactions to diapers. To read more about specific chemicals and their effects along with studies that have been done, see this article from AlterNet (15).

Huggies and Pampers seem to be the most popular brands, followed by off-brands. Neither Huggies nor Pampers claim to be chlorine-free. Pampers does have lotions and fragrances, according to the Pamper’s site (16).  I could not even find a materials list for Huggies. (If someone finds this, please feel free to share!) Off-brand diapers similar to these two brands have similar ingredients.

So how do you pick a diaper? Find a brand that is chlorine-free, dye-free, lotion-free, and fragrance-free. You may even find a brand free of phthalates. If a diaper has colors and prints on it, look to see if the inks or pigments are free of heavy metals. It’s unlikely to find any disposable diaper free of SAP. Some brands that fit these categories are Honest (17), Seventh Generation Free and Clear (18), and Earth’s Best (19). I did find that Seventh Generation diapers leaked. Although not as chemical-free as the previous three brands, Target’s Up & Up Diapers (20) are still a better choice than Pampers and Huggies.

Baby Wipes

Many popular brands have a sensitive formula for their wipes along with their original formula. But how does this compare? Pamper’s Soft and Strong Scented Wipes (21) have some immunotoxicity concerns from ingredients like alcohol. However, Pamper’s Natural Clean Wipes (22) and Pamper’s Sensitive Wipes (23) both have many of the same harsh chemicals as the original formula and even have some development/reproductive toxicity risks that the original formula doesn’t have! Huggies One and Done Refreshing Scent Wipes (24) and Huggies Natural Care Fragrance Free Wipes (25) are both worse than Pamper’s, and the natural is again worse than the original.

What is my favorite brand? Water Wipes (26). They have two ingredients, and I can pronounce both: water and grapefruit seed extract. I love these wipes! I get them from Target.

Baby Shampoo and Body Wash

A few years ago, Johnson & Johnson came under pressure (27) when parents showed concern about formaldehyde in their “gentle” baby shampoo. Johnson has since changed their formula. Although there is improvement, there are still ingredients that are cause for concern when it comes to allergies and immunotoxicity in Johnson’s Baby Shampoo (28). Babyganics Shampoo + Body Wash Chamomile Verbena (29) and Aveeno Baby Gentle Conditioning Shampoo (30) have similar health risks. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash, Fragrance Free (31) has a slightly better rating, but so far, nothing I have seen has better ingredients than The Honest Company Shampoo and Body Wash (32). (I have switched to Honest Shampoo and Body Wash for myself, also. Although expensive, I no longer have the major acne issues I have had since I was 10. I figure I am saving money by not using all the expensive acne washes – and I’ve pretty much tried them all.)

Baby Lotion

Johnson’s is usually the go-to brand for babies, and you’d think Johnson’s Natural Baby Lotion (33) would have a great rating, but it has the unspecified fragrance and has risks of lead and mercury contamination of the hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Many of Johnson’s lotions have parabens that can cause hormonal risks. Aveeno Baby Lotion (34) isn’t much better. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion, Fragrance Free (35) and Tom’s of Maine Baby Lotion (36) have slight cancer, reproductive, and immunotoxicity risks. Once again, my favorite is Honest Face and Body Lotion (37) because it has no cancer, hormone, or immunotoxicity risks, and all fragrance ingredients are specified.

I am still searching for a lotion that has a good EWG score and has no alcohol in the ingredients.

Baby Sunscreen

If your sunscreen is spray-on, toss it. Sunscreen should never be inhaled (38), and spray-on sunscreen particles will be inhaled no matter how careful you are.

If your sunscreen contains Oxybenzone in the active ingredients, skip it. Oxybenzone is absorbed by the skin, has been found in breast milk, is suspected to be absorbed by an unborn baby and cause low birth weight, causes sperm production issues in men, and causes endometriosis in women. Other chemicals to be avoided are Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Avobenzone. You can read more information about these chemicals by reading EWG’s article The Trouble with Sunscreen Chemicals (39).

Remembering all those long words is hard. To make it simple, look for a mineral-based sunscreen. If Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide is the main ingredient, your sunscreen will be much safer to use. Titanium Dioxide has little-to-no skin absorption, while Zinc Oxide has a very small amount, but Zinc Oxide has better sun coverage. With either of these, make sure to reapply the sunscreen often and follow directions carefully for proper sun coverage.

Sunscreens with the least amount of risk include Honest Sunscreen Lotion (40), Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream Chamomile and Calendula (41) (my favorite), and California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion (42).

Sunscreens with a medium amount of risk include Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion (43) and Aveeno Active Naturals Baby Natural Protection Lotion (44).

Some of the worst sunscreens are unfortunately the most popular sunscreens, including Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunscreen Lotion (45), Banana Boat Baby Sunscreen Lotion (46), Coppertone Water Babies Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion (47), and Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion (48). All four of these have high risks in allergens, cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity, immunotoxicity.

Nipple Cream

Lots of good choices for this category! That’s good news for sore mommas, especially since this product ends up in Baby’s mouth. Honest Organic Nipple Balm (49), Motherlove Organic Nipple Cream (50), and Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter (51) all have good ratings. Honest and Motherlove are both organic. All three are non-GMO and safe for baby to ingest. Lansinoh HPA Lanolin (52) has a good EWG rating, but I personally had an allergic reaction to it. I like to use organic cold-pressed coconut oil when I pump – it’s cheaper. (Fun tip: If your baby gets chapped cheeks, lips, or hands from sucking on them, you can use edible nipple ointment on them. I do this just before I swaddle her for the night.)

Dish Soap and Dishwasher Detergent

If you’re bottle feeding your baby, you have a lot of washing to do. I was using Dawn Ultra (53), which has no developmental/reproductive toxicity or cancer risks. However, one day, as I was smelling the breastmilk to see if it still smelled okay, I noticed all I could smell was the dishsoap, even though I had been rinsing thoroughly. I decided to switch to something with no dye or fragrance. I use Dawn for my regular dishes, but I use Seventh Generation Natural Dish Liquid Free and Clear (54)for baby bottles.

A safe dishwasher detergent is Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwasher Powder Free and Clear (55). The concentrated, unscented pacs have the same rating. Both have minimal risks in all categories. Compare this to popular brands such as Finish Quantum Powerball Dishwasher Detergent (56) and Cascade Powder Dishwasher Detergent (57). Both brands’ gel and powder forms are high in all health risk categories.

Laundry Detergent

What started my search for truly baby-safe products? I wanted to know what all the fuss was with laundry detergents designed for babies. What I found angered me. Dreft (58) was the first detergent I looked into, and it was actually among the highest in chemicals – even including “adult” detergents. It has a small health risk in cancer, skin allergies, asthma, and respiratory health. It has a very high risk of hormonal issues. This is because it contains sodium borate (59), which may cause infertility and damage the unborn child. Why in the world is Dreft marketed for babies? Other “baby friendly” detergents are just as bad, including Babyganics 3x  Lavender Scent (60), Ecos Baby Chamomile and Lavender Scent (61), and Seventh Generation Baby Free and Clear (62). Clearly, “baby friendly” detergents are anything but.

Other popular brands are high in risks also. Examples include Woolite ZERO (63), Gain Ultra  Original Fresh Scent (64), All 2x Ultra Free and Clear (65), Tide Original Scent (66), Cheer Stay Colorful  Free and Clear (67), Purex Natural Linen and Lilies Scent (68), Oxiclean Stain Fighter Detergent Free and Clear (69), and Seventh Generation Liquid Free and Clear (70). All of these are especially high in reproductive/developmental health risks.

Some examples of detergents with lower health risks include a few scents of powdered detergent from Seventh Generation: White Flower and Bergamont Citrus (71), Real Citrus and Wild Lavender (72), and Free and Clear (73). The two scents have no reproductive/developmental risks, while the unscented has a slight risk. I like to use Ecos Free and Clear (74), which I can find at Walmart. Ecos Magnolia and Lily Scent (75) has only a slightly higher risk, and this is the detergent I have chosen to use. I buy it from Costco’s website, even though I don’t have a membership. Ecos’ other scents don’t have a great rating. (Note: I found out the hard way that Ecos is not a good detergent for cloth diapers. Seventh Generation powder is, according to Fluff Love University’s Detergent Index (76).

The detergents with the best ratings that I’ve seen in stores are GrabGreen 3 in 1 Laundry Detergent Pods Lavender with Vanilla Scent (77) (the unscented had an even better score) and Green Shield Organic Laundry Detergent Free and Clear (78). These might be a little more expensive though.

Laundry Stain Remover

Between food and poop stains, lots of moms want a good stain remover to spray directly on the stained laundry. Even some of our trusty brands have very high risks in all health categories when it comes to sprays. Examples include: Honest Stain Remover (79), Green Works Stain Remover (80), Seventh Generation Stain Remover (81), Resolve Spray’N Wash (82), and Oxy Clean Baby Stain Remover (83). Shout Advanced Gel Stain Remover (84) has a slightly lower risk.

Babyganics (85) has a decent score when it comes to stain remover spray. Earth Friendly Products Everyday Stain and Odor Remover (86) has a great score.

Honest Oxy Boost Pods (87) has a great score. Oxy Clean Baby Stain Soaker (88) is even better, but make sure to follow its directions.

Fabric Softener

Dryer sheets are full of chemicals and are also a fire hazard. It just doesn’t matter what brand. I use Norwex wool dryer balls (89) to reduce dry time, reduce static, and soften clothes.

Liquid fabric softeners all seem to have about the same level of health risks, varying slightly between brands and scents. The main health risk with liquid fabric softener is concerning allergies and asthma. Cancer and reproductive risks are low or nonexistent. (I usually only use liquid fabric softener on my towels… because who likes a bath towel that feels like sandpaper?)

Flame Resistant Sleepwear

As the survivor of a home explosion when I was 12 years old, I understand why some parents may want their children’s pajamas to be treated with flame retardants. However, there are ways to prevent fires and burning without wrapping your child in chemicals every single night.

Chemicals used in fire retardants for children’s pajamas have been found to cause thyroid issues, early onset of puberty, cognitive issues, and delayed development, according to an article by the Cleveland Clinic (90). Nursing mothers have even had these chemicals show up in their breastmilk.

How do you keep your child safe from chemicals in their sleepwear? An article from Pediatric Safety (91) advises avoiding jammies made with synthetic material and buying cotton instead. The label should read “Wear snug-fitting. Not flame resistant.” Organic cotton will be free from pesticides and flame retardants. This article also says Target, Gymboree, and Costco have been known to sell jammies free of flame retardants. I have also seen them at Carter’s.

You can still keep your children safe from fire, too. Pediatric Safety also says that if the cotton jammies are snug fitting, there is less air between the cotton and the skin for the fire to grow. Tight fitting jammies are also less likely to have a stray sleeve accidentally come into contact with a candle or other flame. Check your smoke detectors and fire alarms once a month. Have your furnace and water heater inspected once a year. Have an escape plan and practice it often with your children. Don’t smoke in your home, and never smoke in bed. Keep lighters and matches away from children. Put out your candles and fireplaces before bed. Unplug holiday decorations before bed, and make sure your fans and other electronics aren’t old and fizzling out. Don’t leave the bathroom fan on for long periods of time. Supervise your children.

Conclusion

Clearly, we cannot protect our kids from every chemical. However, we can educate ourselves. We can make informed decisions. We can lessen the exposure. We can also tell our favorite companies to change their ingredients and materials. Maybe, just maybe the next generation will be healthier.

Image result for wear snug fitting not flame resistant

Works Cited (in order of appearance)

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2 thoughts on “Chemicals In Our Baby Products

  1. Thank you so much for all the research that went into this post! I’m due with my first baby in one month and so glad to have bookmarked this post to refer to. Very excited to have the opportunity to use healthier products for our baby.

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