Just about everyone loves the sweet smell of a freshly washed baby. In fact, there's an entire industry built around the sale of baby care products like baby powder, baby lotion, baby oil, baby shampoo, and baby body wash. Unfortunately, it seems that every day we are learning more and more about just how many potentially unsafe ingredients these products contain.
As parents, it can be difficult to know which baby care products are safe and which ones might be toxic. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps that we can take to reduce the risk of exposing our babies to potentially toxic chemicals and ingredients.
1. Choose Fragrance-Free
Yes, it's nice when your baby smells like lavender, but added fragrance usually means added chemicals. Fragrance-free doesn't mean that the product is automatically safe, but it often indicates that fewer extra, unnecessary ingredients are added. Baby wipes would be a common example of a baby care product where it might be a good idea to opt for the fragrance-free variety. Or, to skip all the chemicals completely, you could even try your hand at making your own.
2. Skip the Baby Powder
I know, I know, baby powder is synonymous with a freshly washed and diapered infant. My mother-in-law still doesn't understand why I refused to let her put baby powder on my kids when they were infants. At the time, it was simply because I didn't see any reason to put anything on their skin that didn't really serve a purpose, but now I know that there's actual science to back up my decision. It turns out that talcum powder is dangerous if inhaled into baby's lungs, can irritate sensitive skin, and that its use has been linked to an increase in ovarian cancer.
3. Less Is More
Babies just don't need all those fancy products that you see on the shelves at Babies R Us. In most instances, companies are marketing their products to make money, not because they benefit babies. Creams, lotions, and ointments often contain harsh chemicals and preservatives that may not even be listed on the labels. Skip the bubble bath and even the diaper cream, or use them more sparingly, and chances are good that you'll be exposing your baby (and yourself) to fewer toxic chemicals.
4. Bathe Baby Less Often
Babies (and big kids too) don't need to bathe every day. According to The Baby Book by popular pediatrician Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha, "babies don't get dirty enough to need a daily bath...once or twice a week is enough bathing." The Sears even suggest that "shampooing once a week is enough for most babies." If you give baby a bath less often, you'll use less soap and shampoo, which means baby will be exposed to fewer chemicals.
5. Learn to Identify Unsafe Ingredients
You don't have to become an amateur scientist, but it helps to have a basic understanding of the ingredients that are considered potentially unsafe to use on the sensitive skin of babies and children. Parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, diethanolamine (DEA), coal tar, petroleum derivatives, and methylisothiazolinine (MIT) have all been identified as dangerous ingredients that have the potential for long-term health consequences.
6. Read Labels
The packaging may advertise the product as "natural," but that doesn't necessarily mean that the ingredients are safe. If you're familiar with at least some of the ingredients listed above that you want to avoid, you should be able to make a more informed choice. My personal rule of thumb is that if I can't pronounce it, I don't want to buy it.
7. Do Your Homework
One of the easiest ways to avoid toxic baby products is to turn to a reputable source and find out which products are considered safe. Visit Babyzone and check out their list of Top Nontoxic Baby Bath Products. You can also go straight to the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database for comprehensive information on the toxicity levels of all sorts of baby care products. The Cosmetic Safety Database also includes information about products used by the rest of your family too — so you can learn about all sorts of skin and hair care products like makeup, toothpaste, sunscreen, and even nail polish.
8. Take Baby Steps
Don't expect to learn everything you need to know overnight. The lack of regulation in the cosmetics industry makes it difficult to know exactly what products contain, and it takes take time to try new products and figure out which ones you like for your family. You also have to consider the fact that the safer brands tend to be more expensive, so you might need to adjust your budget if you plan to start purchasing them on a regular basis.
Start by making small changes, like cutting out one bath a week, or trying one new soap or baby wash. Even if you make small changes gradually, you'll still be improving your health and doing what's best for your baby.