Body care products for babies: what do parents want?Our team went out to ask new parents about their concerns when buying body care products and lotions for babies. We also talked with pharmacists and cosmetic specialists across Canada to find out what product features parents are seeking.
When purchasing body care products and lotions for babies, parents want, above all:
- Fragrance- and perfume-free products
- Products that do not irritate the skin
- Products recommended by dermatologists
- Non-greasy moisturizing products
Did you know?In the first few weeks after birth 1:
- The three layers of skin (epidermis, dermis and hypodermis) are not fully formed.
- The epidermis cells are not yet bound to one another, which makes baby skin permeable and extremely sensitive.
- The sebaceous glands are not fully functional and the skin is therefore not yet protected by a lipid film. It’s actually the reason baby skin smells so good!
- Baby skin has a neutral pH and is not protected by the acid mantle (protective film) that limits the multiplication of pathogenic germs.
- Baby skin does not yet produce melanin and is therefore not protected from the sun.
“More than 98% of parents admitted they do not check the ingredients in their baby products.”
Products aimed specifically at babies are not necessarily the best for their skin and health. They may contain ingredients that are just as concerning as those found in household products and personal care products for adults! According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the many ingredients of concern found in most baby care products can penetrate their delicate skin’s natural protective barrier and be easily absorbed into their body. 2 Children are more vulnerable to the effects of contaminants than adults because they receive greater exposure. They are on average ten times more vulnerable before the age of two because they eat, drink and breathe more frequently, proportional to their weight. The impacts these substances may have are even more worrying when it comes to newborns and young children since they are going through critical stages of development and growth.3
(2) Environmental Working Group. Children’s Health Policy Review. Web. May 28, 2008. <https://www.ewg.org/news/testimony-official-correspondence/childrens-health-policy-review>.
(3) Sonya Lunder. Hey Baby, Your Stuff Is Toxic! Enviroblog: EWG. May 23, 2011. Web. <http://ewg.org/enviroblog/2011/05/hey-baby-your-stuff-toxic>
What ingredients of concern are lurking in the most popular baby lotions?
ATTITUDE’s team of scientists analyzed the most popular baby lotions and sensitive skin products mentioned during our survey of parents and pharmacists. According to our analysis* and the EWG’s criteria, we found that most of the baby care products contain for instance carcinogens, numerous allergens and irritants, as well as synthetic petroleum-based and animal-derived ingredients.
“Baby lotions contain up to 57% ingredients of concern.”
Carcinogenic contaminants: how to spot them on the label
Tocopheryl Acetate and Tocopherol: natural antioxidants that can contain a carcinogenic contaminant toxic for humans and the environment (EWG score: 3).
Polysorbate-60 and Polysorbate-20: synthetic solubilizing agents that can contain carcinogenic contaminants (EWG score: 3).
Triethanolamine: allergenic pH adjuster that can contain a carcinogenic contaminant (EWG score: 5).
PEG-100 Stearate (and other PEGs): synthetic emulsifiers that can contain carcinogenic contaminants (EWG score: 3). These petroleum-based polymers can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, as well as ethylene oxide, manufacturing residues that are known carcinogens according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Ceteareth-20: synthetic solubilizing agent that can contain carcinogenic contaminants (EWG score: 3).
Why are there carcinogenic contaminants in body care products?Canadian and American legislation continues to tolerate the presence of carcinogenic contaminants in small concentrations in the products we use on a daily basis. Why? Generally, any amount below 0.1% is not considered an ingredient. Manufacturers are therefore not legally bound to list contaminants as ingredients on the label if they are residues, impurities or substances in minute quantities generated during the manufacturing process (not directly added).
Allergens and irritants: how to spot them on the label
Paraffinum Liquidum/Mineral Oil: synthetic emollient suspected to be toxic for the organs (EWG score: 1-3).
Phenoxyethanol: commonly used synthetic preservative that can be irritating and allergenic (EWG score: 4).
Lavandula Augustifolia (Lavender) Oil: essential oil containing linalool, an allergenic substance (EWG score: 5).
Benzyl Alcohol (appears on the European Union’s list of 26 allergenic substances): synthetic allergenic preservative suspected to be toxic for the organs (EWG score: 5).
Distearyldimonium Chloride: irritating synthetic antistatic agent (EWG score: 3).
Geraniol (appears on the European Union’s list of 26 allergenic substances): a component of essential oils, this odorous molecule used for its natural fragrance is allergenic and toxic for humans and the environment (EWG score: 7).
Citronellol (appears on the European Union’s list of 26 allergenic substances): a component of essential oils, citronellol is an allergenic natural fragrance (EWG score: 5).
Cinnamal (appears on the European Union’s list of 26 allergenic substances): a component of essential oils, cinnamal is an allergenic natural fragrance (EWG score: 7).
Dimethicone: a synthetic emollient that is suspected to be toxic for the organs and the environment (EWG score: 3). The above-mentioned substances do not all have the same allergenic or irritant potential and it’s impossible to know the concentration simply by reading the ingredient list. However, for these reasons and as a precaution, it is recommended that babies not be exposed to these substances.
Animal-derived products: how to spot them on the label
Cera Alba Beeswax Polyglyceryl-3 Beeswax
Unprocessed animal-derived ingredients are not actually harmful for your baby, but may pose an ethical and personal issue. If you prefer vegan body care products for your baby, look for the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) seal on the package.
What are synthetic ingredients, exactly?The modern cosmetics industry reached maturity between 1920 and 1960. It is the development of petroleum-based raw materials that caused it to flourish. Often inexpensive, ingredients of petrochemical origin led to the mass production of beauty products. After that, advances in technology made it possible to synthesize new molecules or reproduce naturally occurring molecules. Studies demonstrating the risks and effects these synthetic materials can have on health and the environment are only very recent. Paraffinum Liquidum (an allergen and potential carcinogen) and Petrolatum (a potential carcinogen), found in our analysis of baby lotion ingredients, are mineral hydrocarbons. In other words, they are petroleum-based mineral oils. Like silicones (Dimethicone, Amodimethicone, Cyclomethicone, etc.) and polymers (PEG, PPG, Polypropylene, Crosspolymer, etc.) found in many conventional cosmetics, hydrocarbons are polluting synthetics. They are not easily biodegradable and are toxic for aquatic organisms that ingest them*.
Are natural baby products really better?
The ATTITUDE team conducted a survey** of its subscribers. More than 97% of the people we asked said that they are looking for natural baby lotions for their baby’s sensitive skin problems (dry skin, etc.) and wanted to avoid chemicals. There are many natural and “organic” baby products available in addition to the conventional products in pharmacies and grocery stores. But it’s always a good idea to read the label and check the ingredients regardless of what’s on the packaging and whether it is labelled natural or organic. Why? Just because a product is natural doesn’t mean that it will be suitable for your baby’s fragile skin. When our team analyzed baby lotions, we also assessed the natural baby products recommended in pharmacies or appreciated by the parents we surveyed***.
Here is a natural ingredient of concern that we found:
- Tocopherol and Tocopheryl Acetate: vitamin E that is contaminated with hydroquinone, a known carcinogenic and an irritating and allergenic endocrine disruptor that is being increasingly banned from use in cosmetics.
Three Tips for Choosing the Best Body Care Products for Your Baby
1. Read the label (using tools that can help)Given the incredible number of creams, lotions and specialized body care products for babies on the market, it can be very hard to choose! Not to mention that the ingredient list is incomprehensible to most parents. When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, with a crying baby in your arms, you need simple and practical tools to rely on. This is why the Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database exists. The EWG’s Skin Deep ® Cosmetic Database analyzes and assesses the safety of over 70,000 skin care products sold under nearly 2,000 brands. The data is based on the research the EWG has conducted to establish the ingredients’ effects on health and the environment. The search tool shows the results for each ingredient found in body care products, helping you choose what is best for your child. It even mentions possible manufacturing residues and contaminants associated with certain raw materials. This database is an excellent tool to find out what may be lurking behind the label! The site also contains a list of baby care products. Lotions, shampoos, soaps, diaper creams, baby wipes and more are listed in order of safety to help you choose the best ones according to the EWG’s standards. If you have any doubts about a product, simply enter its name and brand in the search box to see its score, from 1 (safest) to 10 (least safe).
2. Look for safety sealEWG VERIFIED™ SEAL The EWG VERIFIED™ seal identifies products and brands whose ingredients meet EWG’s stringent health and safety criteria. For a product to be certified EWG VERIFIED™, the manufacturer has to provide all the details of the ingredients used, including ingredients not listed on the label (very small quantities). They must also be completely transparent and certify that their products do not contain any carcinogenic contaminants, endocrine disruptors, mutagens and other synthetic and polluting chemical substances.
3. Be on the lookout for allergens and irritants
- Avoid essential oils. They are extracted or distilled from the volatile molecules of aromatic plants The extracted essence has a high concentration of powerful active ingredients. Some essential oils are rich in highly irritating ketones (neurotoxic in high doses) or phenols (anti-infectious molecules). It is therefore not advised to use essential oils on children under three years of age.
- To prevent allergic reactions, avoid products containing methylchloroisothiazolinone and methylisothiazolinone, two known contact allergens (they often replace parabens).
Products that are good for your baby and the planet: what to buy for your little one’s routine?
Opt for these body care essentials for your baby:
- A hypoallergenic moisturizing lotion or cream
- A gentle and hypoallergenic shampoo or body wash. The 2-in-1 version is practical for baby’s bathtime
- Zinc diaper cream to help repel dampness that leads to diaper rash
- A soothing chamomile hypoallergenic face and body cream or natural repairing cream for especially dry and sensitive skin
- Non-nano zinc mineral sunscreen (do not use before six months of age)
- Natural, biodegradable baby wipes
Are you pregnant or planning to be? Read our article on which ingredients to avoid in personal care products when pregnant.
*ATTITUDE baby lotion analysis. The chemists and engineers in our laboratory analyzed a sample of ten conventional baby lotions, natural lotions and lotions for sensitive skin. The brands are not named for confidentiality reasons.
**The ATTITUDE survey was conducted on a sample of 2,000 people taken from ATTITUDE’s subscriber list.
***The ATTITUDE survey of pharmacists: Our team surveyed 20 pharmacists across Canada to determine the most recommended baby products in three categories: conventional, natural and sensitive skin.