By Allyson Owen
Being an aesthetician, I’ve always been hyper focused on reading and dissecting ingredient labels but I understand this is not a natural behavior for everyone. When it comes to buying products to use on our babies, we can get so caught up with cute packaging, attractive claims and product scent we don’t think about what is actually IN the bottle. I know this may seem daunting, but it really is important to spend some time reading and getting to know labels because unfortunately – under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act from 1938 – the FDA only regulates 11 ingredients in cosmetics yet there are THOUSANDS in use and being formulated into products we use every day. We need to ask questions and vet the products we choose to purchase for our families as there is very little regulation in cosmetics and it is up to us – parents – to make healthy, informed choices for our family.
Why it matters what we put on baby’s skin
The reason why it matters what we put on baby’s skin is because their immune system is immature and their skin is more permeable, meaning they can absorb more toxins than adults do. That is why safe skin care used during those early years is extra important – we need to limit exposure to toxic chemicals during the early years of critical development to avoid health issues down the road.
I know this is all kind of scary and overwhelming if you are new to this! I consider myself an informed person but believe me, I am still learning about toxic chemicals every day! To help break it down and make this a little less overwhelming, I am going to give some suggestions on where to start with vetting skin care and what ingredients should be avoided in your children’s products.
What ingredients to avoid
Avoid Fragrance/Parfum – One of the biggest offenders is one of the ingredients parents want most in their baby’s skincare – fragrance! Why? Because everybody loves a sweet smelling baby! However, it’s not worth it for the health of your child. Fragrance is actually highly toxic and a single fragrance can contain hundreds of nasty chemicals. So if you read “fragrance” or “parfum” on an ingredient list, put the product back on the shelf! Instead, look for products that only use pure essential oils to create a natural fragrance. This is a much safer option plus pure essential oils contain therapeutic benefits.
Avoid Mineral Oil – Mineral oil is a byproduct of petroleum and there are so many safer, more wholesome options today to moisturize the skin. Look for products that use skin-loving vegetable oils such as coconut oil, olive oil, grapeseed oil and avocado oil. Even better are baby moisturizers that contain fruit and vegetable oils with a high concentration of omega-3 essential fatty acids such as red raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil, flax seed oil and chia seed oil. Oils rich in omega-3 essential fatty acids help build up baby’s delicate skin and protect it from daily environmental assault.
Avoid Chemical Sunscreens – Pediatricians typically recommend to avoid sunscreen before 6 months of age and after that, make sure to stick to mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide as the “active ingredient” that is located at the top of the ingredient label. This is the safest option. Second best is a combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. Completely avoid sunscreens with ingredients that contain chemical sun filters such as avobenzone, oxybenzone and octisalate. Also, look further down the label to the “inactive ingredients” section and make sure you can understand most of the items listed. If there are a bunch of strange, hard to read ingredients it’s probably not the safest option for your baby.
Avoid Products Containing Water – This is a hard one but the reality is, if a product contains water it needs to be preserved. Period. And the preservative has to be strong enough to fight off bacteria, yeast, fungus and mold. If you do chose to purchase a product with “water” in it, make sure to avoid products containing synthetic harmful preservatives such as parabens and phenoxyethanol. Chose products that contain natural, more gentle preservatives instead. Some popular ones right now are radish root ferment, lactobacillus and herb blends. Something to keep in mind is that you need to use the product up faster if it contains a natural preservative because they don’t hold up as long as their synthetic counterparts do. That should be ok because a product with a three year shelf life is actually kind of gross if you really think about it. Luckily, baby balms and baby oils do not contain water and do not need to be preserved. Just make sure to avoid the ones with mineral oil and petrolatum!
Last Tip: Do not get caught up with product claims. Just because a label says it’s “natural” or “fragrance free” doesn’t mean the product is safe. It really is important to flip the bottle over and read the ingredient list and make sure you only see words you recognize and can pronounce. If the label is confusing to read, there is most likely questionable – and potentially toxic – chemicals you will want to avoid applying on your baby. And don’t worry; if all of this is just too confusing and overwhelming, there are third party organizations out there that do the vetting for us like Made Safe. Check out their website as every product listed is certified non-toxic!