In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a fairly alarming trend of increasing childhood disease rates worldwide. Research in the United States and Europe shows increases in incidences of childhood cancers, as well as increases in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, early-onset puberty, asthma, and allergies.
There’s also a growing body of scientific studies linking chemicals found in consumer products with specific illnesses (usually studied in animals). And while there is no scientific consensus on the overall causes of these trends, there is enough evidence now to help people buy better products to avoid certain chemicals, until those chemicals are proven safe. This perspective is called the precautionary principle. With babies I think it makes a lot of sense. Rather than requiring that someone (usually an under-funded regulatory agency, or even less-funded non-profit organizations) prove these chemicals definitively cause childhood cancers and other illnesses, we simply say, let’s avoid them until industry provides the data to prove that they are safe.
Based on that idea, many chemicals are now banned in baby care products in Europe and Japan. So when I go shopping for stuff for my five-year-old daughter, I try to avoid these chemicals as well:
The Top 10 Chemicals to Avoid in Babycare Products:
Triclosan is an anti-bacterial chemical found in many hand cleaners, soaps, and even toothpastes. Triclosan is a suspected endocrine disruptor (meaning it disrupts our natural hormone system). It is persistent, bioaccumulative in wildlife, and may lead to the creation of resistant bacteria (or Super Bugs!).
Oxybenzone in sunscreens. Oxybenzone is the most common UVA-blocking chemical in sunscreens marketed in the United States. Unfortunately, this chemical has been shown to be absorbed through the skin and can act as a photocarcinogen. This irony, that in sunlight (i.e., when you use it) this chemical can produce allergy- and cancer-causing chemicals, does not seem to faze government regulators. But I’d recommend that you avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone for children.
1,4-Dioxane is a contaminant from the manufacturing process to make the foaming agents in bubble baths and shampoos (a process called ethoxylation). In high doses, 1,4-Dioxane is a probable human carcinogen, a known eye and respiratory tract irritant, and is suspected of causing damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Yep, those beautiful bubbles you coat your child with may contain a carcinogen and promote the formation of tumors on the skin. This chemical will not be listed on the ingredient list as it is a contaminant. Disturbingly, a number of recent studies have found 1,4-Dioxane in both conventional and “natural” bubble baths.
Formaldehyde and its family of chemicals (including DMDM Hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, 3-diol Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, Nitropropane-1, Formalin, Methanal, Methyl aldehyde, Methylene oxide, Morbicid acid, and Oxymethylene) show up in some bubble baths, hand soaps, shampoos, and shower gels. DMDM Hydantoin is an allergan that forms cancer-causing chemicals. Other formaldehydes are suspected carcinogens, cause allergic reactions and contact dermatitis, irritate mucous membranes, damage the eyes, and may cause immune system dysfunction.
Phthalates are often found in fragrances and plastic toys (so they aren’t listed on the label). Babies smell amazing on their own. They don’t need perfume! Di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and di(2-ehtylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) are of particular concern. Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals and have been linked to birth defects, premature breast developments, lowered sperm counts, testicular injury, damage to reproductive organs, and lung, liver and kidney cancer. Phthalates can also alter the development of the male reproductive system. What’s not to like?!
Cocamide DEA and Lauramide DEA, derivatives of Diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), amonoethanolamine (MEA), are used as emulsifiers, pH adjusters, preservatives, and foaming agents added to coconut oils. These chemicals have been linked to hormone disruption, to liver and kidney cancer, as an irritant to hair and skin, corrosive to eyes, and they can also react with other chemicals to form carcinogenic nitrosamines. They are often found in baby shampoos, soaps, sunscreens, talc.
Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol are found in baby lotions, baby washes, creams, and hand-wipes. PG has been linked to possible brain, liver, and kidney abnormalities, respiratory and throat irritation, central nervous system depression, pulmonary oedema, brain damage, hypoglycaemia, skin rashes and dermatitis.
Talc in baby powder. Chemical grade talcum powder has been found to be a carcinogen. Babies should not breathe talcum powder. (I know, I know. Your mom. My mom. Everybody’s mom covered their kids in this. We grew up thinking this is what babies smell like.) There is a link between use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Talc particles are similar to asbestos particles and data suggests that they can cause tumors in the lungs of lab animals. Also, if you need to use talc, make sure your brand has no preservatives, fragrance, or sodium borate.
Fluoride in toothpaste. Everyone knows the benefits of small doses of fluoride for your teeth. However, when ingested in high doses, fluoride is linked to bone cancer, and it is a neurotoxic agent that can discolor teeth. The American Dental Association recommends fluoride-free toothpaste for children under two, and I recommend fluoride-free toothpaste for all young children under five (who might still swallow some of the toothpaste each time they brush).
Parabens (such as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben) are used as preservatives in babycare products. Parabens are skin irritants that have been linked to breast cancer, hormone disruption, estrogenic effects (mimicking natural estrogens that lead to cancer), and skin rashes.
To find safe, healthy products that do not contain these chemicals, visit: GoodGuide