Baby skin care
As adults, we all wish we could recapture the smoothness and glow of baby-soft skin. But baby's skin is more than just soft: it's also sensitive and thin, soaking up more of what it comes into contact with than an adult's skin. Unfortunately, many baby skin care products contain ingredients, such as petroleum byproducts, preservatives, and fragrances, that may not be good for baby's health or the health of the earth.
Oil in baby oil (and lotion, and shampoo, and...)
Many popular baby skin care products, such as shampoo, lotion, and diaper cream, contain mineral oil, a petroleum-based substance. The production of the petrochemicals used in baby skin care products pollutes the environment by releasing hazardous chemicals into the air and water. Mineral oil-based products support the hazards of the petroleum industry, which include about 2.6 million gallons of oil spilled every month during transportation and about 71 million pounds of toxins released into the air and water during refinement.
Additives for your new addition
Supplementary preservatives in many baby shampoos and other skin care products include BHA, which has a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and bioaccumulates in the tissues of organisms, and parabens, known endocrine disrupters that are not only detrimental to human health, but also destructive to animal hormones and development. Additionally, the potent synthetic antimicrobial agent triclosan, used in some shampoos and other personal care products, has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs. Another common synthetic to look out for in shampoo is diethanolamine (DEA), a foaming detergent.
That new baby smell
The fragrances in baby skin care products pose risks as well. Fragrances are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which add to air pollution, are persistent in the environment, and contaminate waterways and aquatic wildlife. An estimated 5.72 million Americans have skin allergies to fragrance, while around 72 percent of those suffering from asthma claim that their condition can be triggered by synthetic fragrance.
With the race to be the first to offer eco-friendly products, especially in the personal care industry, companies are touting their products' green attributes with claims that at times can be confusing and misleading. Making sense of environmentally friendly standards is an important part of being a wise consumer.
What does “organic” really mean?
One murky area is the term “organic.” While the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains clearcut standards for organic food, the same can’t be said for body care products. The industry is in turmoil trying to agree upon a set of standards. Some companies use the USDA certified organic food standard, which requires 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic. Others use the less stringent California state standard for organic cosmetic products, which requires at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients. And still others label their products organic without meeting any external criterion.
In the meantime, a nonprofit standard-setting group called NSF International has released a draft set of rules for organic personal care products and a group of 30 cosmetic companies recently devised their own set of specifications called Organic and Sustainable Industry Standards (OASIS). How it all washes out remains to be seen.
Watching out for all creatures, great and small
While you're contemplating green attributes, you may also wish to join the cruelty-free movement. Just keep in mind: a company may claim that they don’t employ animal testing for their products, but without third-party verification, it’s hard to know whether these statements are in fact completely true. So stick to those products certified as cruelty-free by looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo. You can rest assured that no bunnies (or monkeys or cats for that matter) were harmed in the making of these non-animal-tested products.
In a recent study that shook the natural products industry, 100 “natural” and “organic” soaps, shampoos, dish liquids, lotions, and body washes were tested and nearly half contained 1,4-Dioxane, a carcinogenic chemical. This toxin has been found in conventional personal care products, but this study commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) was the first to test green products.
In scientific studies, 1,4-Dioxane has caused cancer in animals; scientists have not yet confirmed the long-term effects on humans. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says current levels do not pose a hazard to consumers but they have advised manufacturers to lower amounts in cosmetics as much as possible. None of the products tested that were Certified Organic by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) contained 1,4-Dioxane. In response to this study, some of the affected companies have said they will work toward removing 1,4-Dioxane from their products.
Related health issues
Although the chemicals found in baby skin care products have largely been ignored by the FDA, studies have found higher levels of parabens in tumors from human breast tissue. However, because the potential damage to the endocrine system has yet to be proven, the controversy surrounding the toxicity of parabens is still being debated. While DEA is infrequently used in skin care products because it is a known carcinogen, the more commonly used chemicals TEA and MEA are often contaminated with diethanolamine. Lauryl/laureth sulfates are common skin irritants that can dry out the skin and hair with longterm use and can also cause hair loss and scalp irritation.
Products with artificial fragrances can also contain phthalates, widely used industrial chemicals that are estrogenic or anti-androgenic. Studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reveal a link between monoethyl phthalate, a chemical used to preserve scent in perfumes and colognes, and sperm damage. Mindfully has a breakdown of the leading chemicals found in fragrance products and their related health effects.
- 1,4-dioxane: A petroleum-derived contaminant classified as a probable human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): A chemical preservative used in cosmetics and certain foods to prevent fats and oils from becoming rancid.
- diethanolamine (DEA): Suspected carcinogen, used as an emulsifier or foaming agent.
- parabens: This family of synthetic preservatives (which includes methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl-parabens) can possibly disrupt the endocrine system.
- phthalates: Additives that are widely used in plastics and other materials, mainly to make them soft and flexible. They have applications in industry, in medicine, and in consumer products. There is public concern about phthalates because of their widespread use and occurrence in the environment. Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system, particularly the developing testes, according to animal studies.
- triclosan: An antibacterial agent. Effects may range from skin and eye irritation to the formation of dioxin and chloroform in the right circumstances, both probable carcinogens.
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings and they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.
- Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
- Flavour and Fragrance Journal - Fragrance: Emerging Health and Environmental Concerns
- The Green Guide - Soap and Shampoo: Personal Best
- Natural Parenting - Natural Baby Skin Care
- The New York Times - Is Organic Shampoo Chemistry or Botany?
- Environmental Working Group - Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Before you attend to Baby's delicate skin, check out where your favorite baby products rank on the hazard scale.
- ScienceDirect.com - Ecotoxicological evaluation of the additive butylated hydroxyanisole using a battery with six model systems and eighteen endpoints