When it comes to your baby's lotions, shampoos or powders, it’s wise to go green. Doctors and researchers have found many personal care products marketed for babies are laced with the harmful phthalates and other concerning chemicals.
Toxic to little ones
Phthalates are man-made chemicals used in plastic and vinyl products to make them soft. They are also found in cosmetics and personal care products in the form of fragrances and colours. Traces of these chemicals are showing up in everyone's blood but infants and toddlers seem to have the highest concentration.
At first, researchers thought children were picking up traces from sucking or chewing on plastic on toys or from playing on dusty floors.
No tears but lots of chems
But a recent study, conducted by University of Washington researchers and published in the journal of Pediatrics suggests another source: baby care products.
Researchers measured the urine from the diapers of 163 infants aged 2 to 28 months and all had detectable amounts of at least one type of phthalate. More than 80 percent had seven or more types. The levels of phthalates increased with the amount of grooming.
More than half the mothers had used baby shampoos on their infants within 24 hours of the urine tests; 14 percent had used powder and one-third lotion. These babies had four times the level of phthalates in their urine as those whose parents had not used any products on them.
In March of this year, baby shampoos also came under fire for containing formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane or both, two chemicals have been linked to cancer and skin allergies. Of the 28 products tested by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, including some leading national brands, 17 contained traces of both chemicals.
Other studies have found that phthalates can alter children's hormones, especially the human male reproductive development when a fetus is developing. While more research is needed, many scientists are clear that these are dangerous chemicals and young infants may be more vulnerable because they are smaller and still developing.
"At this time, we do not know what the potential long-term health effects might be, but there is a large body of animal studies to suggest developmental and reproductive toxicity (from phthalates) and a few human studies with changes in health outcomes as well," said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, the lead scientist on the Pediatrics study.
There are concerns these chemicals could interfere with reproduction when exposed children reach puberty.
Out of sight
Although there's been a law passed in California that will ban six types of phthalates, there are currently no federal U.S. or Canadian laws prohibiting their use in personal care products or cosmetics. (In April 2009, Health Canada proposed a ban on the use of six phthalates in soft vinyl children’s toys and child-care articles, such as vinyl bibs, school supplies or bath, squeeze or inflatable toys, but the new regulation has yet to take effect.) Cosmetic and personal care companies in North America are under no obligations to list their ingredients, there's no way of knowing which products have phthalates.
Many European countries are erring on the side of caution and banning these chemicals. You should too. Fortunately, there are plenty of chemical free and healthy products out there for baby:
• Erbaviva Baby; available online, at health food stores and many Canadian baby boutiques.
• Live Clean Baby; Canadian, available at major retailers such as grocery and drug stores.
• Hankettes; Canadian, online only.
• Earth Mama, Angel Baby; available at health food stores and many Canadian baby boutiques.
• Burt's Bees Mom and Baby; available at drug stores and health food stores.
• Aubrey's Organics; available at health food stores.