The Dangers Of Baby Products: Could You Be Slathering Your Baby With Toxins And Carcinogens?

You’d think that a company that produces baby products would put special care in selecting quality ingredients that are safe for a baby’s vulnerable body. This is what “trusted family companies” like Johnson & Johnson advertise, after all. However, studies, scientific findings, and lawsuits are showing that this absolutely is not the case.

According to EWG (Environmental Working Group), DNA-mutating carcinogens are 10-65x stronger in children than adults. As if that’s not frightening enough, it’s figured that children are exposed to so many toxins that by age two, they hit 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risk. This is just wrong!

Everything from soap and lotion to wipes and diapers deserve a heavy skeptical eye. The skin is an organ which can absorb molecules quickly and completely, so applying any sort of toxin and chemical, however brief, can mean big trouble for their tiny developing bodies. It’s not enough to buy products with labels like “kid-safe” either, because loopholes have been deliberately created by politicians and lobbyists so that products can be labeled with greenwashing terms like “natural” when all but one ingredient comes from a chemical lab. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council is pushing to make protection from toxic pollution a human right, but the council’s focus is on large-scale commercial issues involving the production, handling, and dumping of chemicals and wastes. Carcinogenic pesticides being sprayed on foods have yet to make it on their “to change” list, so a global effort for a safer baby oil could be years or even decades away. Until that finally happens, it’s up to parents and adults to be informed.

Chemical ingredients to avoid

  • Fragrance

When companies list a product ingredient as “fragrance,” they’re basically saying “our super-secret cocktail of synthetic chemicals and toxins.” You can find it in everything from shampoo and lotion to baby powder and diapers. Fragrance is even more bothersome when mixed with fellow chemical phthalate. You’ll read all about that later. 

  • 1,4 Dioxane

1,4 Dioxane is a known animal carcinogen and suspected human carcinogen. This is very disturbing given it’s ability to penetrate the skin. Even more disturbing? The EWG estimates that this toxic chemical is found in over half of the baby soaps on the market. You’ll never find it listed as an ingredient though. That’s because 1,4 dioxane is a byproduct of ethoxylation — a manufacturing process in which cancer-causing ethylene oxide is added to chemicals so they’re not so harsh on the skin. 1,4 dioxane is commonly found in soap products like shampoo, liquid soaps, and body washes. Look out for any ingredients including the terms “oleth,” “ceteareth,” and “xylenol.” You should also steer clear of products containing sodium laureth sulfate and any forms of PEG (polyethylene glycol).  

  • Formaldehyde

If there’s any ingredient that will immediately raise a red flag, it’s formaldehyde. However, while many of us are aware of it’s dangers, formaldehyde and it’s carcinogenic compounds can be present even in products that aren’t labeled as containing formaldehyde — because it can be produced as a byproduct. Stay away from products that contain ingredients like quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, bronopol (2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol ), 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, and hydroxymethylglycinate.  

  • Parabens

These cost-effective preservatives can be found in everything from food and drugs to makeup and baby products. They’re used to prevent the growth of microorganisms and mold — always nice — but they can mimic estrogen and potentially disrupt the hormonal processes of the endocrine system. Not very nice at all. Parabens are also suspected of being skin toxicants, allergens, and they may have a negative interaction with our immune systems. Living a paraben-free life isn’t easy because they’re everywhere, and because parabens go by many names. To keep baby’s exposure minimized, steer clear of products with ingredients containing “benzoic acid,” “propyl ester,” or any ingredient containing the word “paraben.”

  • Phenoxyethanol

This chemical preservative doesn’t appear to pose a threat to adults, but it seems to be far from safe for babies. According to Campaign For Safe Cosmetics, phenoxyethanol is linked to nervous system damage, severe allergic reactions, and skin conditions. It’s a primary ingredient in baby wipes, lotions, soap products, and fragrances, so parents need to watch labels for this in virtually every commercial baby product. It can also be found in cosmetics and skincare products, so breastfeeding mothers need to scrutinize their products for this as well.   

  • Phthalates

This class of chemicals is found in all sorts of plastics thanks to its ability to soften plastics and make them more flexible. Interestingly, this “plasticizer” is also used as a binder in personal care products. So far, phthalates are linked to ADHD, breast cancer, issues with brain development, autism, and more. They’ve also been linked to genital birth defects and reproductive issues in males.

The threat of phthalates is no secret as six different phthalates are presently banned from use in children’s toys in Canada and the U.S. Yet, somehow, these dangerous chemicals are still being used for flexible plastic and synthetic fragrances (ie. the “fragrance” discussed above). There’s a long list of phthalates being used in commercial products, but the phthalates with a negative reputation include butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), dibutyl phthalate (DnBP), di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-butyl phthalate (DBP), benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP), diisobutyl phthalate (DiBP), diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), dipentyl phthalate (DPP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP), di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), di-isohexyl phthalate, dicyclohexyl phthalate (DcHP), and di-isoheptyl phthalate.

  • Petroleum Products

The word “petroleum” doesn’t spook many people as we all grew up seeing and even using the petroleum jelly Vaseline. However, we forget that petroleum is what gives us car oil and gasoline. No one would ever think of rubbing gas on their baby’s skin, but the same petroleum we use in our automobiles gives us petrolatum and mineral oil — two very common ingredients in personal care products. Mineral oil is suspected of being an allergen and a toxicant to the immune and respiratory system. EWG’s Skin Deep only has it rated at a very low 1-3, but when you realize that mineral oil’s function as a “moisturizer” is merely to provide the skin with a coating that provides water loss — there aren’t any benefits to justify its risks.

Petrolatum poses even greater concern than mineral oil and it scores a 4 out of 10 on EWG’s Skin Deep Database. However, that not-too-shabby 4 isn’t an assuring score as petrolatum products are at risk of being contaminated with PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons). To avoid petroleum, steer clear of products containing ingredients like paraffin, liquid petroleum, white mineral oil, and petrolatum.  

  • UV Filters

Sunscreen has been hailed as a powerful ally in preventing skin cancer, provoking parents to practice a daily ritual of slathering their babes in sunscreen to “protect” that precious new baby skin. It’s implied that we should be doing this to our children to keep their skin healthy and cancer-free, but EWG’s report “The Trouble With Ingredients In Sunscreens” suggests parents may be accomplishing the opposite.

As EWG states in their report, sunscreens went into production well before they were regulated by agencies like Health Canada and the FDA. When public health organizations finally stepped in, existing products and ingredients received automatic approval even though they hadn’t been reviewed for safety. Sunscreens block UV rays by way of mineral filters or chemical filters, and these filtration options have proven problematic in “cost effective” commercial products. The ingredient oxybenzone poses the greatest threat as a potential endocrine disruptor, but sunscreen users should also watch out for probable toxins octinoxate, octisalate,  homosalate, and octocrylene.

Where to find safe products

As we can see, it’s not enough to buy products labeled as “natural” or “kid-friendly.” And unless you’re a chemist, a chemical can go by so many different names that you practically have to be a chemist to decipher an ingredient list. Making your own products is obviously the best way to ensure that your skin products are made with natural and safe materials. If you have the time and the kitchen confidence to make your own products, then Wellness Mama’s DIY recipes for skin care products are a great place to get started. However, if you’re short on time or kitchen capabilities, there are some excellent resources to help you get your family the safest products possible.   

  • 21 Bundles

    Studies and blood tests show that babies are exposed to toxins and chemicals in the womb. That means that a healthy diet and safe products should be a top priority for mom from the moment of conception (and ideally beforehand) until birth. If mama is breastfeeding, then a low-chemical lifestyle remains the utmost importance. 21 Bundles makes healthy products easy by delivering monthly shipments to moms from pregnancy and beyond. Subscriptions start as early as the first month of pregnancy and deliver safe products and items to the mama-to-be which cater to the season and the needs of the present month of pregnancy. Once the due date comes along, the subscription shifts focus to baby and begin delivering products and goods that match baby’s needs and development.

    I’ve had this subscription for three months and from what I’ve seen, it’s an excellent way to get healthy result-driven products at a great price. If you have an expectant mother in your circle of friends or family who hasn’t gotten into green products, then a 21 Bundles subscription could be the perfect way to ease them into a safer and healthier lifestyle. I think that their products could win over even the most un-greenest of women because of the great results they deliver. If you’d like to try this out for yourself or a mama that you care about, Healing The Body readers can use coupon code Healing20 to save 20 percent.

  • Healthiest.io

    A sister company of 21 Bundles, Healthiest.io is basically an online shop featuring star products from EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database. No item is even considered for the shop unless it has an EWG  rating that’s 2 or lower. Products are further vetted by Healthiest’s expert panel of practitioners for full approval. It gets better. As safe and healthy and cautious as Healthiest is, their products don’t come with an outrageous price tag. The few comparisons that I’ve done have Healthiest’s prices on par with other retailers. Sometimes Healthiest’s prices even beat out the competition. Of course, you should still do your own research before buying, but my own experience and research has me feeling confident in recommending them. If you decide to try shopping with them, be sure to use coupon code Healing20 which they made available exclusively to our readers.    

  • EWG

    The Environmental Working Group’s site is packed with great information. EWG’s Cosmetic Database “Skin Deep”  is an excellent resource for buying products because it rates ingredients for safety by 1-10. Many products have been entered into their database and have a rating for the product itself, so moms and dad can easily determine product safety. It’s possible to even do this at the store or on the go thanks to their EWG’s Healthy Living app which can scan food and personal care products for safety ratings and important details every consumer should have access to. While you’re on their site, don’t forget to check out Consumer Guides. These guides educate shoppers on important basics for everything from safe sunscreens and bug repellents, to healthy cleaning products and safer seafood.
    Their baby-inspired guides on formula, skin products, and healthy child care are especially important to read. Thanks to toxin-laden items like toxic chemical-treated crib mattresses and BPA-treated plastics and cans, nontoxic soap is only the beginning of a parent’s safety quest. Get yourself informed so that you can advocate for your family’s health.   

  • Campaign For Safe Cosmetics

    Co-founded by EWG and a project of the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, The Campaign For Safe Cosmetics serves as a resource for legislative changes as well as health education and product safety. Their reports of the analysis and safety of products plus their policy initiatives are stopping manufacturers from hiding behind manipulative labeling and poor practices, pushing them into developing the business ethics and morality they’ve long claimed to have. Like EWG, they offer an app called Think Dirty which enables consumers to determine the safety — but specifically for skin products and cosmetics.

That sums up today’s post. If you know of chemicals we missed in our list, then please share them. And don’t forget to tell other parents how you go about providing safe and healthy products to your family.

Sources for this article include:

Global Effort Aims To Reduce Children’s Exposure To Toxic Chemicals — EWG
6 Toxic Chemicals Lurking In Baby Products — Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen
SR Hazardous Substances And Wastes — United Nations Human Rights Council
Johnson & Johnson Removes Some Chemicals From Baby Shampoo — Scientific American
The Hidden Threat In Your Shampoo — Rodale’s Organic Life
What Are Pthalates And Parabens — Goddess Garden Organics
Pthalates — United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
Top Hazardous Materials In American Industries — Eastern Kentucky University
1,4 Dioxane — Campaign For Safe Cosmetics
Difference Between Mineral Oil And Petrolatum — LEAFtv
Phthalates Are Everywhere And The Health Risks Are Worrying. How Bad Are They Really? — The Guardian
Canada Bans Phthalates In Children’s Products — Mother Nature Network
PAHS — EWG
Pollution In Minority Newborns: BPA And Other Cord Blood Pollutants — EWG
Choosing The Right Mattress Will Protect Your Baby From Chemicals — Baby Depot
The Business Ethics Resource Guide — Marylhurst University
The 515 Chemicals Women Put On Their Bodies Every Day — Mind Body Green