Parents have enough to worry about. Ditch concerns about toxins in baby lotion by avoiding these 10 harmful chemicals.
Sometimes being a parent can feel like you spend every day trying to save your child from one catastrophe or another—whether it’s a fall off a swing set or a near-miss choking incident. (How do small objects find their way into babies’ mouths so fast?)
As if you didn’t already have enough concerns, now you can add another one to the list: Many baby body lotion brands are contaminated with a slew of toxic chemicals that can have negative consequences for your child’s health.
In a comprehensive review, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that infants and young children are significantly more vulnerable to carcinogenic substances than adults. This means even exposure to tiny amounts of toxic substances can have negative health effects.
What’s more, there’s very little regulation of personal care products in the United States. In fact, the FDA can’t require companies to test their products for safety before putting them up for sale.
If you’ve been slathering your child with baby lotion toxins, don’t beat yourself up—after all, you should be able to assume that products marketed for use on babies and children are safe for use on, well, babies and children.
But until this is officially the case, it’s up to parents to learn how to avoid harmful chemicals so they can provide children with effective—and safe—dry skin relief. To that end, here are 10 toxic chemicals to avoid when choosing a baby body lotion.
If you want to ditch toxic chemicals, then you’ll need to become a proficient label reader. Here are some of the worst chemicals that show up in kid lotions—plus how to recognize them on labels so you never expose your child to them again.
1,4-dioxane is a probable carcinogen, a possible skin irritant and eye irritant, and a respiratory toxin. In spite of this, the ether appears in dozens of baby products and up to 34 percent of all body lotions.
1,4-dioxane isn’t actually a functional ingredient in body products; instead, it’s a common contaminant of other (potentially harmful) ingredients.
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it can show up in products under 56 different guises. These include PEG, sodium laureth sulfate, TEA, and ingredients that include “ceteareth,” “oleth,” “laureth,” “myreth,” and “xynol”.
DMDM hydantoin is frequently included in skin moisturizer as an antimicrobial agent—but after reading about its effects, you might prefer the microbes.
That’s because the chemical may release formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen. Additionally, DMDM hydantoin can provoke skin reactions, stress the immune system, and/or cause allergic reactions. Talk about a nasty baby lotion chemical!
- Many fragrances have been shown to cause allergic reactions and skin irritation
- Fragrances that contain phthalates may cause hormone and endocrine disruption
- Fragrances containing phthalates may also negatively impact infant development, reproduction, and fertility
- Fragrances that contain phthalates may cause hormone and endocrine disruption
What’s tricky is that phthalates often don’t appear on labels—instead, they’re covered under the ambiguous word “fragrance.” Your best option is to look for products that explicitly state they were made without the use of phthalates.
A common ingredient in baby products, mineral oil can appear by its own name or as “baby oil” on labels. (“Baby oil” is usually nothing more than petrolatum mixed with fragrance.) But it all amounts to the same thing: A product derived from petroleum.
Just as you wouldn’t bathe your baby in crude oil, you might not want to slather them with mineral oil after learning about its potential effects:
- It may clog pores and cause skin irritation. Ironically, this can also dry out the skin—meaning it may exacerbate the very symptom it’s purported to help
- Exposure to mineral oil is associated with an increased risk of developing a variety of cancers, including leukemia and cancers of the lung, esophagus, and stomach
- Mineral oil exposure is also associated with an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and lipoid pneumonia
Even though mineral oil is a common (and relatively cheap) skin moisturizer, there’s no need to risk the negative effects of exposure when there are safer, more effective alternatives. (Here’s looking at you, coconut oil!)
- They have been linked to cancer and are labeled a possible carcinogen by the EPA
- They may cause skin irritations or sensitivity
- DEA and MEA have been associated with asthma
- One form of nitrosamine (NDELA) has been shown to accumulate in the organs and negatively impact reproduction and immune system function
The evidence against nitrosamines is strong enough that they’ve been banned in Canada. So long as they’re still allowed in the U.S., the best way to avoid them is to ditch any products with DEA, MEA, or TEA on the label.
These preservatives (which help prevent products from growing mold or bacteria) are found in a huge range of products, including lotion for dry skin.
You may be familiar with them because of all the bad press they’ve received in recent years.
Unfortunately, that press is well deserved:
- Parabens may cause hormone disruption and negatively impact reproductive function and development
- They may be linked to breast cancer and have been found in high concentrations in human breast tumors
- They’re a frequent cause of allergic reactions
Luckily, ditching parabens is straightforward: Simply avoid products that contain ingredients ending in the word “paraben”. (Benzyl paraben, butyl paraben, methyl paraben, and propyl paraben are common offenders.)
The EWG has found that petrolatum shows up in 40 percent of all baby body lotions. Why not smear a crude oil derivative on your child, you ask?
Let us count the reasons:
- As with mineral oil, it may clog babies’ pores and make it more difficult for skin to function properly
- By clogging pores, petrolatum prevents the skin from absorbing other (potentially beneficial) ingredients in the lotion
- It may be contaminated with carcinogenic substances that weren’t fully removed during the oil refining process. In fact, the European Union has labeled petrolatum a carcinogen and restricts its use in body products
- It may aggravate skin conditions such as rosacea and acne
- If petrolatum finds its way into a person’s lungs (for example, if it’s applied near a baby’s mouth or nose), then it has the potential to cause lipid pneumonia
Bottom line? Petroleum-based products may be cheap, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually a good deal.
Propylene glycol is commonly used in wiper fluid, de-icing solutions for airplanes, and… baby skin care products. (One of these things is not like the other!) Body lotion manufacturers add it to their products because it allows other ingredients to be absorbed by the skin.
It might not surprise you that the same substance used in anti-freeze is a possible carcinogen. Propylene glycol may also cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.
To avoid propylene glycol and its similarly nasty compatriots, ditch any products containing propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol (PEG) or polypropylene glycol (PPG).
Quaternium-15 had its 15 minutes of fame a few years ago, but not for any good reasons.
Instead, the EWG drew attention to the preservative over concerns that it can release formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen and has been shown to provoke allergic reactions, headaches, nausea, and respiratory issues.
Despite the EWG’s campaign, the preservative still makes an appearance in many a moisturizing cream.
While there are plenty of baby lotion toxins to avoid, there are also natural skin care brands that strive to provide effective, safe, and toxin-free body moisturizer for their customers.
At Era Organics, our mission revolves around helping people moisturize, soothe, and rejuvenate their skin without exposure to harmful chemicals. We saw a need to provide a dry skin care option that parents could feel good about using on their children.
So we created our botanical Baby Lotion, which is free of every single harmful ingredient listed above.
By avoiding the harmful chemicals outlined above and investing in plant-based baby skin care products, you can relieve yourself from having to worry about whether you’re covering your baby with harmful toxins. And what parent couldn’t use a little relief?