Written by Little Bairn founder, Victoria Sylvester, and originally published on Mamamia.
There’s something about becoming a mother that makes us more conscious of the human condition. More aware. Maybe even more wary. We bring life into the world, that tiny human becomes our world, and we are hit with an instinctive need to protect them from the world.
My transformation to mum has been no different. In fact, now a mother of three, it was this metamorphosis that led me to launch my organic baby skincare range with the aim of taking the worry out of bath time for me and my fellow mamas.
Choosing baby skincare products (and personal care products for ourselves) shouldn’t be challenging. But, sadly, with ‘greenwashing’ happening a lot more than it should, it’s not so straightforward.
Before my eldest son, Oliver, was born in 2011 I went out and bought a range of baby care products to have ready in his nursery. They were mostly products I’d picked off the shelves of baby outlets, but sold with the notion of being safe and natural.
After Oliver was born I started using these products on his newborn skin and was shocked to find he reacted to a number of them. His skin became red and flaky, but rather than dismiss it as a normal reaction to being out in the world, I started scrutinising the ingredient labels on the products I’d chosen.
This was a game-changer for our family. I quickly discovered that some ‘natural’ products on the market contain potentially harmful ingredients. And the products I was using on Oliver were just the tip of the iceberg – diving into our bathroom cupboard I found a number of hidden nasties with the potential to harm my little one.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), our children are being exposed to an unacceptable number of chemicals via personal care products. One survey found that body products are responsible for exposing children to an average of 60 chemicals every day, some of which have never been assessed for their toxicity on a little person’s body.
Now think about this in the context of just how delicate a baby’s skin is – it’s approximately 30% thinner than ours, making it more prone to irritation. Babies are also far more sensitive to carcinogens than adults as a result of their developing immune and central nervous systems.
So just where are these nasties hiding? From shampoo to baby lotion and toothpaste, here’s a few of the leading chemicals we should be looking out for:
Phthalates are a group of chemicals found to have endocrine disruption effects. They can be found in fragrances, shampoos, lotions and nail polish. When it comes to babies, exposure can, shockingly, begin in the womb. When a woman applies a personal care product, it can be absorbed through the skin and reach her foetus. Past studies on umbilical and blood cord samples have indeed identified phthalates.
A group of preservatives (also known as formaldehyde-releasers) that release a small amount of this powerful chemical while sitting on the bathroom shelf. Formaldehyde can be found in body wash, baby shampoo and hair gel (it’s also commonly used in building materials and cleaning products!)
Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen. We know babies are more susceptible to carcinogens, so it goes without saying that it’s best avoided. When reading ingredient labels, look out for DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea and imidazolidinyl urea.
Triclosan is a preservative and antibacterial agent commonly found in toothpaste and hand washes. Tests show that it has endocrine disruption effects.
Currently in Australia we aren’t told what chemical compounds are used to create a fragrance. When we sell a skincare product, as manufacturers we’re required to list every ingredient on the label; however, perfumes and scents can simply be labelled as “fragrance”. What we do know, however, is that the chemicals used to make a fragrance can lead to headaches, asthma and skin irritation. Studies have also indicated that these chemicals can penetrate the skin of a pregnant woman and reach her unborn baby.
While all this may all sound scary, there are ways that we can protect our families from the hidden nasties in personal care products. Here are my top three tips for choosing baby safe products for your family:
- Choose products created solely for babies – While this isn’t a sure-fire way to avoid toxic chemicals, products created especially for babies tend to be gentler.
- Choose ‘Certified Organic’ – Organic certification is like a third-party seal of approval, assuring you that a product is free from hidden nasties. In Australia, products certified under the Australian Certified Organic scheme have to contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients.
- Read the label – In Australia, skincare manufacturers are required to list each ingredient on the product label. Don’t simply trust a product that markets itself as natural or organic (current regulations in Australia mean that any brand can make this claim – even if their products contain hidden nasties!). Harmful ingredients can also be listed under more than one name.