We are increasingly turning to products that are "clean", clean, ie without toxic ingredients, it is important to us what we put on the skin as well as what we put into the body, and what we put on the skin of babies and children is even more important. Children's skin is more vulnerable, permeable to chemicals and sensitive to irritations, so she needs products with very gentle formulas. But just as products that are advertised as “natural” aren’t necessarily better for your body, baby products that claim to be “gentle” aren’t necessarily safer for toddlers.
Some baby products may contain harmful ingredients, such as carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, skin allergens and irritants.. This can be difficult to know, as some of the harmful chemicals may not be listed, and others may be hiding behind different names. To understand why, we need a little background on the cosmetics industry: 1328
Internationally, there are many ingredients that are completely banned in cosmetics, must have a warning label or are limited to maximum concentrations, specific uses or areas of application. The European Union has banned 1,328 ingredients in cosmetics and restricted use to 256 others. But the U.S. FDA administration regulates cosmetics very differently than drugs. Unlike medicines, cosmetic products do not need FDA approval before the market, and manufacturers are not required to register product formulations (although they may voluntarily) or adhere to good manufacturing practices. It means that any product can go directly to market without review - as long as it does not contain any of the rare ingredients that are explicitly banned - and will only be tested if it is reported to be unsafe.
While no banned ingredients are added directly to your baby’s bubble bath, there are some not-so-great ingredients. It is worth noting that some ingredients, although inherently recognized as safe, may react with other ingredients and release chemicals as a by-product.
Many cosmetic brands come from America and for safety it is necessary to check the ingredients of the product we put on the skin of babies and children.
Understanding product labels for babies and children
Many baby skin care products contain claims that help them look safer. For example, labels can be:
But given the FDA regulation we mentioned, such terms don’t necessarily mean anything.
What ingredients in baby and child products should be avoided?
For bathing babies and children Castilian soap is not the best choice. Castilian soaps they have a very high pH that can cause dry skin, especially in babies and children. The ideal pH of the skin is between 4.5 and 6. Pure water has a pH of about 7, and Castilian soaps have a pH of about 9. The safest ingredient for bathing babies and children is a combination of herbal ingredients that have a combined pH of about 5.5.
Odors can cause allergic reactions, including rash and breathing problems. A 2018 survey of 533 baby products found that almost half contain fragrances or perfumes. If your baby is sensitive to scented products, be sure to choose skin care and bathing products that do not have these words:
- a mixture of essential oils
Fragrances may be listed in general without the use of specific ingredient names or may be identified by a less obvious name. Look for products that are labeled as odorless or that explicitly state the ingredients of that odor on the packaging.
Synthetic musk is often used in fragrant products as a substitute for expensive, rare musks, derived from musk deer, civet or whale sperm.
Common musk xylene and ketone are limited to maximum concentrations in fine fragrances, eau de toilette and other products in the EU due to skin irritation and inhibition of hormone production.
Xylene can also be referred to as 5-tert-butyl-2,4,6-trinitro-m-xylene. The ketone may be termed 4'-tert-Butyl-2 ', 6'-dimethyl-3', 5'-dinitroacetophenone.
In addition to concerns about human health, there are also environmental impacts. The chemical structure of synthetic musk prevents their easy decomposition. They reach wastewater, soil and waterways, where they bioaccumulate and cause toxicity in aquatic species.
Because these ingredients are often left out of the list of ingredients, avoiding them can be difficult. Look for products that are labeled “odorless” or that explicitly state the odor ingredients on the packaging.
Phenoxyethanol is a "glycol ether" used as a fragrance ingredient and preservative that kills bacteria and prolongs the life of the product. It is found naturally in green tea, but is often produced synthetically by reacting phenol with ethylene oxide, known as a carcinogen. Phenoxyethanol has become a more common alternative as manufacturers are phasing out parabens and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, as it is thought to be a safer option despite long-standing concerns.
It can be found in baby sunscreens, lotions, shampoos, soaps, bubble baths and wipes. High concentrations can cause contact dermatitis, worsen eczema, and even affect the central nervous system.
In addition, in 2008 the FDA warned mothers not to use nipple creams that contain phenoxyethanol because the chemical can cause vomiting and diarrhea in infants. Due to high safety concerns in case the infant swallows it orally, be careful to avoid phenoxyethanol in products that come in contact with the baby’s mouth, including hand lotion, bubble bath, etc.
Benzyl alcohol is an "aromatic alcohol" used as a fragrance, preservative, local anesthetic and solvent to reduce viscosity. It occurs naturally in some fruits, flower oils and trees, but is often synthetically produced by combining benzyl chloride with sodium hydroxide. It is very common in baby products, especially those sold as natural. Like phenoxyethanol, its prevalence has increased as manufacturers look for alternatives to parabens.
Although benzyl alcohol is an effective preservative, it can act as a skin sensitizer and cause contact dermatitis. In concentrations of 3% or more it has been shown to cause irritation and is limited to a maximum concentration of 1% in cosmetics in the European Union. If you suspect benzyl alcohol is causing irritation to your baby's skin, look for products without essential oils, including ylang ylang, jasmine, rose and hyacinth.
Most paint additives and synthetic dyes are strictly regulated by the FDA and manufacturers must obtain approval before being involved in cosmetic products. However, this certificate does not apply to all colors.
Colors that do not need to be certified include those from:
- animal sources
Paraben in cosmetics are common in bath and laundry products such as soaps and shampoos. Skin care products are a common source of irritation and should be avoided in babies and young children who are sensitive to them. Parabens are too easily absorbed into the skin.
Research from 2018 suggests that long-term exposure to parabens during a person’s lifetime can affect their metabolism and hormone regulation, so you could reduce your child’s exposure in early childhood.
Parabens are a class of alkyl ester preservatives that are both cheap and very effective in extending the shelf life of products. Multiple parabens are often used in the same formulation to target a wide range of microorganisms. Some parabens are banned in cosmetics in the European Union (including benzylparaben, pentylparaben, isobutylparaben and isopropylparaben), while others are not harmful and are commonly used as food additives and preservatives in cosmetics. Methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben and ethylparaben are the most common parabens in baby products, especially in sunscreens, shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, oils, lotions and diaper creams. All four of these are not proven safe.
Parabens have come under fire for their ability to mimic estrogen, cause skin allergies and irritation. Because irritated and damaged skin can allow increased penetration and absorption of parabens, the EU has banned propylparaben and butylparaben in products used in the diaper area of children under 3 years of age. Methylparaben and ethylparaben are not banned, because due to their chemical structure they are less likely to penetrate the skin.
As most manufacturers are phasing out parabens due to growing public concern, it is becoming easier to find products with the “paraben-free” claim. If not, watch out for ingredients that end in -paraben.
Sodium benzoate is another common alternative to parabens. As a fragrant ingredient and preservative, it can be found in almost all types of baby products.
Although not generally a problem in itself, sodium benzoate can produce benzene, which is a known carcinogen, when it reacts with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) under certain conditions. This does not prove to be a problem in products without vitamin C, but can become a problem when sodium benzoate is found in oral products, including toothpaste, tooth gel, and mouthwash.
Phthalates are chemicals used in some cosmetic products. Although it is not clear exactly how they affect health, some 2010 research points out that exposure to phthalates at different stages of life has effects on human development, allergies and reproductive health.
The FDA has concluded that there is not enough evidence to regulate phthalates in cosmetics. According to the FDA, diethyl phthalate (DEP) is the only phthalate that is still commonly used in cosmetic products.
Diethyl phthalate is a "plasticizer" used to retain odors. It can be found in everything from toothbrushes to toys and baby lotions. Like some other plasticizers, diethyl phthalate is a proven endocrine disruptor with the ability to mimic hormones and stop hormone production. It is also listed by the EPA as a priority pollutant under the Clean Water Act because of its insolubility and potential to penetrate the soil and contaminate groundwater.
Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are used in a variety of cosmetic products, including liquid baby soaps and baby wipes. Although you won’t see it on the product label because it isn’t added directly to the product formulation, formaldehyde can end up in baby products that include preservatives such as DMDM Hydantoin and Bronopol. These compounds are used to prevent the growth of bacteria, but can also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to them. Artificial preservatives are one of the main causes of irritation and allergic reactions.
Although doses observed in skin care products are generally considered safe, repeated and prolonged exposure may increase the risk of other health problems, including asthma and some cancers.
Most cosmetic companies have voluntarily removed formaldehyde from their products, but it is still used in some baby and child products, so be sure to check the list of ingredients.
Bronopol, or 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, is an antimicrobial preservative that is found in handkerchiefs. In the European Union, it is limited to a maximum concentration of 0.1% due to its ability to produce nitrosamines (reasonably expected carcinogens in humans) in combination with triethanolamine, but there are no such restrictions in the United States. It is also known to worsen eczema.
To completely avoid formaldehyde, stay away from the following ingredients: quaternium-15, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromoxal) , hydroxymethylglycinate or any polyquaternium.
Other preservatives that can cause an allergic reaction and irritation are:
- Parabens (butyl, ethyl, methyl, propyl, isobutyl)
Dimethicone can often be found in baby products such as balms, lotions and sunscreens. It performs a protective function that can be intended to prevent moisture from escaping the skin or to make sunscreen waterproof.
Although it is good at performing this function, there are other safe, natural ingredients that can act as a barrier, but also have a number of other beneficial effects.
Propylene glycol is a common type of alcohol used in moisturizers and sunscreens. It has become increasingly popular in cosmetic products due to its skin softening properties, but it is also a common cause of irritations and allergic reactions.
Talk to your child's pediatrician or dermatologist if you suspect your child has a reaction to this ingredient.
Sulfates are an ingredient that is hard to avoid. They are used in many different skin care products, such as shampoos and body washes.
The most commonly used sulfates are:
- sodium lauryl sulfate
- sodium laureth sulfate
Sulfates are not necessarily unsafe, but they can cause temporary irritation. If you notice any redness, dryness, or itching after bathing, check for sulphate in your baby’s products and consider switching to a sulfate-free bath product.
Where to buy safe and natural cosmetics for babies and children?
You can buy healthy and natural cosmetics for babies and children in the Be pure store here.
Sunscreens for babies and children
Not all sunscreens are the same. Chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UV rays, while mineral sunscreens block UV light, repelling it from the skin.
Both protect against harmful sun rays, and chemical sunscreens are often more appealing to parents because they are easier to apply.
However, research published in 2020 suggests that some ingredients of chemical sunscreens can be absorbed through the skin into the body. While this does not necessarily mean they are unsure, parents should be aware of the potential risks until further research is conducted, as some of these compounds may affect hormone activity in the body.
Common ingredients of chemical sunscreens to avoid include:
How to choose safer products for personal care of babies and children?
- Avoid "antibacterial soaps" like those with triclosan. Ordinary soap and water work well to prevent the spread of bacteria.
- Choose odorless body washes or soaps with a few simple ingredients.
- Choose odorless lotions, as phthalates are often an integral part of “scents” or “perfumes” in these products.
- Avoid products such as antiperspirants which usually contain aluminum and act by blocking the sweat glands. Deodorants do not prevent sweating like antiperspirants, but they can help conceal odors and absorb moisture. Consider a deodorant with ingredients such as baking soda or cornstarch.
- Choose shampoos that do not contain phthalates or parabens.
- Use odorless baby wipes or plain water.
- To prevent diaper rash, change diapers often, gently cleanse the skin and use odorless diaper cream (such as zinc oxide-based products).
- Avoid using talcum powder, because it can cause lung damage if inhaled. Some talc was also found to contain small amounts of asbestos.
- Avoid toothpaste with triclosan. Fluoride toothpaste is recommended, but start with a very small amount.
- Avoid using topical benzocaine to relieve pain when teething in babies. Safer alternatives include a cold compress or massaging the gums with your finger.
- Children should not use mouthwash until they are 6 years old, when they are able to spit.
- Always use sunscreen with SPF 15 to 30 while you are outdoors during the warmer months. Choose mineral-based products such as sunscreen with zinc oxide instead of chemical-based products like oxybenzone.
- Some lotions, body washes and hair products may contain nut-based oils (for example, almond oil). If your child is allergic to nuts or seeds, it is best to avoid these products. However, be careful when reading the ingredients, as some nut-based oils do not appear with their usual name - for example, peanut oil may appear as "peanut oil". Talk to your pediatrician or allergist for more information.
One way to take care of baby and children's products is to make healthier decisions. Being aware of the ingredients in personal care products is one way you can make healthier decisions for your family and the environment. While shopping, find out about products and seek help in identifying safer product choices.
Advice to Dr. Lauren Zajac, MD, MPH, FAAP, who is an assistant professor in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai. Pediatrician with the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) and Clinical Director for Children’s Health Centers in New York State.
Cosmetic products must be safe for the health of babies and children and should contain only non-toxic ingredients; strong allergens or substances with the action of endocrine disorders, and preservatives should be used in the lowest effective concentrations.
Where to buy safe, natural sunscreen for babies and children?
You can buy mineral, healthy sunscreens for children in the Be pure store here.