From the very minute we find out we're pregnant we whisper all sorts of heart based promises to our little beans vowing to keep them healthy, safe and protected. But somehow, somewhere along the line in our quest to protect and provide the best for our little bundle of joys, we have been misled and convinced that we need to smother them in antibacterial, chemical based unnatural and synthetically fragranced products.
We have been led to believe that our gorgeous little cubs should smell like Johnson and Johnson’s baby powder, baby oil and bedtime bath bubbles and instilled with a fear of germs, believing that sickness lurks on every doorknob, shopping trolly, kitchen sink and school bag – that the only way to protect our babies is to sterilise and Detol wipe the world they live in!! But for me, what I believe to be the biggest crime here, is that not only we have been led to believe these products are necessary, but that they are safe.
Like the entirety of the personal care industry, the baby care industry is mostly self regulating, which means that the vast majority of what you are using on your child has never been tested for its safety in human health, let alone its synergistic (all the chemical ingredients) effect.
From their immature immune and detoxification systems to the fact that they intake far more chemicals and toxins per kg of body weight than adults, there are multiple reasons for why our little ones are more susceptible and vulnerable to toxins and should be better protected.
"The processes of absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination of environmental contaminants within a child’s body are considered less advanced than those of adults, making them more susceptible to disease outcomes following even small doses."
(Ferguson et, al., 2016)
When it comes to my philosophy on raising children and babies in a toxic society, I believe LESS is MORE. Less products, less chemicals, less impact, less things and if you can't eat it, it probably shouldn't go on your skin.
So in an effort to increase awareness around what we are using, and what we should avoid, and in the spirit of reducing chemical exposures, I feel it only fitting to start with our most used baby product – The baby wipe - the go to for everything from poo to vomit!
THE BABY WIPE
I think it is important to note that I am not suggesting we go back to dragging around a bag of rags every time we leave the home, although I do give extra points to those who do, but to understand that there are some nice alternatives that you can use. When we support these companies doing the right thing, we encourage others to jump on board and provide us with better and safer products. Its all about reducing exposures where we can, and if you could opt for a safer product – why wouldn’t you, right?
So here is my list of nasties to avoid.
Alcohol – for obvious reasons, alcohol is very drying and associated with dermatitis.
Phthalates -(DEHP, BBP, DBP, DMP, DEP) – these chemicals, have been linked to sperm damage and infertility. Phthalates are banned from personal care products in Europe. This goes for all personal care products –Phthalates won’t be listed in the ingredients, look for “fragrance” or “parfum” and avoid unless the fragrance is specifically listed as certified organic.
PEG’s – Polyethylene Glycol – PEG’s are used to help cleansers dissolve oil and grease and can be found in caustic oven cleaners – enough said – not something I want to be using on my skin. They strip away natural moisture and can damage the immune system.
Triclosan -this antibacterial ingredient is a known hormone disruptor and is restricted for use in Canada and Japan. It meets the criteria used to identify Substance of Very High Concern in the European Union's REACH program and is being prioritized for replacement by safer alternatives. Believed to be toxic to immune systems and sense organs, this should not be used anywhere near baby! Look for “antibacterial” on the packaging (unless the claim is “naturally antibacterial” with some kind of explanation why and how). What is super scary is that this antibacterial is commonly found in blood and urine samples!
Methylisothiazolinone- is a widely-used preservative; has been associated with allergic reactions. Lab studies on the brain cells of mammals also suggest that methylisothiazolinone may be neurotoxic, possibly explaining why it is banned in Europe, Canada and Japan.
Petrochemicals - There are thousands of ingredients in personal care products, including baby-wipes, that are derived from oil and gas and fall under the category of petrochemicals. Issues with these ingredients range from smothering skin, to stripping natural oils, to causing cancer. Meanwhile, other chemicals may be treated with a petrochemicals to make them less harsh, and this process can cause the byproduct 1,4-dioxane, which is bad news. You can hunt through ingredients for the letters “eth” and other signs of ethoxylation or simply look for “contains no petrochemicals” on the label.
Formaldehyde-releasing chemicals - There are some preservatives that release formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing). These include DMDM hydantoin and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, both of which are red-flagged by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). These chemicals irritate skin, lungs and eyes, especially when used in contact with skin.
Phenoxyethanol- Can be found in baby wipes as a preservative but has been considered toxic for use around the mouth or lips according to the EWG Skindeep database. This ingredient has strict regulations for use in cosmetic products in Japan -http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ingredient/704811/PHENOXYETHANOL/
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate - A detergent and foaming agent, it’s hard to find shampoo or toothpaste without SLS. Because it’s derived from coconut, some manufacturers or labels may claim that it is a natural ingredient, but it is the processing used to create SLS that makes this a toxic ingredient. It can cause malformation to children’s eyes, skin irritation, and is damaging to the immune system.
Parabens, eg methylparaben - The paraben family of preservatives has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and hormonal problems, including infertility. Look for methlyparaben, propylparaben, butlylparaben and ethylparaben: anything ending with “paraben”. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) says, “Parabens mimic oestrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.”
Mineral Oil – A derivative of petroleum this coats the skin like plastic wrap and keeps the skin from being able to breathe and absorb moisture as well as release toxins.
Propylene Glycol ! – Derived from natural gas this ingredient has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. This ingredient is suspected of causing immunotoxicity, respiratory toxicity and skin or sense according to sources compiled by Scorecard (www.scorecard.org)
Methylisothiazolinone (MI) A preservative and leading cause of dermatitis, according to the Skin and Cancer Foundation, look for the full name or abbreviation, MI
Look for wipes that say they are free from alcohol, chlorine, perfume, parabens, PEGs and petrochemicals, not tested on animals and 100% biodegradeable.
While I know that buying safer wipes can sometimes come at a price, there are many DIY recipes you can try. My personal favourite is a little castile soap and water – (I liked Dr Bronners unscented) and a cut up single size flannel sheet that I picked up from a second hand shop - this way you have something inexpensive and machine washable to use for number ones and save the store bought wipes for number 2s!
A great range of wipes can be found at https://www.hellocharlie.com.au/eco-baby-wipes/
For more information on ingredients visit the EWG skin deep database
Deanne is a nationally accredited building biologist who is passionate about protecting the health of our future generations.