When my eyes were first opened to the fact that we are exposed to over 200 chemicals before we leave our homes in the morning, and babies are born pre-polluted with over 200 toxic-chemicals coursing through their veins from the moment of birth….I knew changes were in order. As the mom of a toddler and newborn infant, I quickly became overwhelmed with all of the research. It was hard to prioritize when everything around us seemed a toxic-hazard. Since infants and young children are most sensitive to developmental problems by being exposed to chemicals inside everyday products—I decided baby products was the place to start for my family.
If you’re like me and that mile-long ingredient list is a little overwhelming, let’s make it easier. Here is a list of the top chemicals you’ll find inside of your everyday baby products that are linked to allergies, developmental problems, and even cancer.
Phthalates: Chemical compounds used to soften plastics (especially polyvinyl chloride, or PVC). They are used in personal care products as well, and are, unfortunately, found in baby lotions and creams. Phthalates are used in these products to help soften the substances, help lotions absorb, and fragrances last longer. Studies link phthalates to impacting birth outcomes, including gestational age and birth weight, male genital abnormalities, fertility issues, asthma, early puberty, and obesity. Phthalates have also been shown to cause kidney and liver cancers in animal studies.
Sheela Sathyanarayana, an acting assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Pediatrics, conducted a study that tested urine in infants 2 months to 28 months old whose mothers had used infant care products on them in the previous 24 hours. The study found that every baby whose mother had used baby products on them with this time frame had at least one phthalate in their urine sample. Among those with the highest level of phthalates included babies whose moms used more infant personal care products.
Parabens: Parabens are used because they are inexpensive and highly effective preservatives. But they have been found to mimic the female hormone estrogen and interfere with the reproductive systems of males. A 2004 study led to a widespread concern that parabens could be linked to breast cancer.
Avoid Parabens by looking for products marked as paraben-free. If your product doesn’t state this check the labels for these common types of parabens:
Fragrances: Synthetic fragrances are listed as “fragrance” or “parfum” on product labels so no one can know the full chemical makeup of what that “fragrance” actually is. Synthetic fragrances have been linked to asthma, skin sensitivity, endocrine disruption, and immune system damage.
DEA, MEA & TEA: Diethanolamine (DEA), Monoethanolamine (MEA), and Triethanolamine (TEA) are hormone-disrupting chemicals used in personal care products as emulsifiers or foaming agents. They are found in baby products such as wipes, baby washes and shampoos and bubble baths. This family of chemicals can form cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines, especially with repeated, prolonged use.
Petroleum: A study that was published in Pediatrics in 2000 found that extremely-low-birth-weight infants treated with petroleum jelly were more likely to develop systemic candidiasis. Petrolatum creates a warm, moist home for fungi to grow. It locks in moisture without allowing moisture to be absorbed from the atmosphere.
Mineral oil: A by-product of petroleum that has been classified as both carcinogenic and tumorigenic by the U.S. Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances. Several studies have confirmed that poorly refined mineral oil can induce skin and scrotal cancers after prolonged direct contact with the skin. When used for gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, mineral oil can cause severe irritation of the skin.
Acute exposure can result in upper respiratory tract irritations, and chronic exposure may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or tachypnea, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The NPS Environmental Contaminants Encyclopedia adds that mineral oil can produce lipid pneumonitis, whether the oil is inhaled, used topically on nasal mucous membranes, or taken orally, especially at bedtime. The oil gravitates to the lower lobes of the lungs where it leads to fibrosis and cyst formation, which can be fatal in some cases.
PEGs: PEG compounds often contain small amounts of ethylene oxide which can increase the incidences of uterine and breast cancers and of leukemia and brain cancer.
Alcohol: Benzyl alcohol, like other preservatives, can break down to create aldehydes which combine with other chemicals. One of those aldehydes can be formaldehyde, which is a carcinogen. Benzyl alcohol can be found in baby products like diaper wipes. It has been linked to skin irritation, causing itching, burning, scaling, hives, and blistering of the skin. It can also be toxic to the liver and central nervous system.
Phenols: Phenols have been linked to damage of the heart, kidney, liver and lungs. Effects reported in humans after dermal exposure to phenol included liver damage, diarrhea, dark urine and red blood cell destruction. Even minimal skin exposure to relatively small amounts of concentered phenol on animals led to blisters and burns. Phenols can exist in washes, lotions, sunscreens and creams. Make sure none of baby’s products contain Phenols.
Quaternary ammonium compounds: are called “Quats” for short. They are used as a preservative, surfactant, and germicides in cosmetics. All quaternary compounds can be toxic. While initially they may make the hair and skin feel soft, over time they actually remove the skins natural moisture. They are found in baby shampoos and washes, detanglers, and fabric softeners. Quaternary ammonium compounds are known as an immune system toxicant, and can cause irritation to skin and eyes, and respiratory. Some quats like benzalkonium choride, are phenolic and have been found to be endocrine disruptors. There is also the concern of contamination with formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen.
Propylene Glycol: Propylene Glycol is found in many brands of baby products including baby wipes. It is the primary ingredient in anti-freeze and destroys the nervous system of humans and animals when applied topically. It causes skin, eye and lung irritation.
SLS & SLES: These toxins are found in many foaming baby products such as baby shampoos and washes. In studies, animals that were exposed to SLS experienced eye damage, depression, diarrhea, severe skin irritation, labored breathing and even death according to the American College of Toxicology. If SLS is combined with other chemicals it can be transformed into nitrosamines, a potent class of carcinogens that will cause the body to absorb nitrates at a higher level than eating nitrate-contaminated food.