Are baby care products free from health hazards?

Despite the fact that baby care products are subject to much stricter regulation, babies are exposed to a mixture of hazardous chemicals through everyday products and the environment.


The problem

Many baby care products may contain ingredients that have an irritating or allergenic effect and are suspected of being carcinogenic (cause cancer) or disrupting the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine (or hormone) system and could cause tumours, reproductive disorders, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Regular contact with harmful substances, for instance when using cosmetic products on the skin may lead to their absorption into the body. The more chemicals are taken up, the more likely it is that they could have an effect on our health. Therefore, it is useful to reduce contact to hazardous chemicals in e.g. cosmetic products, if possible.

Although most cosmetic ingredients are listed on the packaging with their technical terms (INCI – Nomenclature), these technical terms are still incomprehensible to many people. This pocket guide aims to explain which substance/ingredients to look for and why.

Children are much more sensitive to exposure to toxic chemicals than adults. Due to their larger skin surface relative to their weight, their higher respiratory volume and higher metabolism rate they absorb more toxic substances than adults. Their immune and nervous systems are still developing and their detoxification systems are not fully functional. In addition, baby’s skin is considerably thinner than that of adults and the function of the skin as a barrier is not fully developed. Consequently, children have a quicker uptake of chemicals and a slower removal from their bodies and their organs and immune systems have fewer defences against chemical attack. They are particularly vulnerable to endocrine disrupters because they interfere in the body’s general development.

Children are exposed to a multitude of hazardous chemicals from different sources, not only from skin care products and toys but also from everyday products like clothing, food or furniture.



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Possible health effects

Children may absorb hazardous chemicals in baby care products through the skin, breathing and swallowing. It is possible that they get allergies from some of the substances in these products (mostly fragrances).

As baby care products are applied regularly, the exposure may last over longer periods of time. This continuous contact with chemicals which may increase the risk of developing hormonal, nervous or reproductive disorders as well as cancer over the lifetime.

Hazardous substances in baby care products are not a high priority with regard to the environment, because they normally don’t end up in the environment. Nevertheless, every environmentally friendly choice contributes to environmental improvements!

Properties Hazardous chemicals (INCI*) Possible health effects Used in products
Preservative Parabens (e.g. Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Propylparaben) Estrogenic effects, disrupts the hormone system, sensitizing agent Shampoos, bath additives, lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, toothpaste, baby wipes
Preservative Phenoxyethanol Irritating after prolonged exposure, neurotoxic, allergenic Shampoos, bath additives, lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, baby wipes
Preservative Formaldehydes and formaldehyde releasers (e.g. benzylhemiformal, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane, diazolidinyl urea, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM Hydantoin) Irritates mucous membranes and skin, can cause hypersensitivity, carcinogenic (nasal pathway) Shampoos, bath additives, lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, toothpaste, baby wipes
Preservative, antiseptic Triclosan Can cause allergies and bacterial resistance Shampoos, bath additives, toothpaste, baby wipes
Detergent Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS, Sodium dodecyl sulfate; Sulphuric acid, monododecyl ester, sodium salt; Sodium salt sulphuric acid; Monododecyl ester sodium salt sulphuric acid), Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) Irritates and dries out the skin Shampoos, bath additives, toothpaste, baby wipes
Detergent Ethylene oxide, 1,4 Dioxane (by-product of SLS, myreth, oleth, laureth, ceteareth, PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, oxynol) Probably carcinogenic to humans, toxic to the brain and central nervous system, kidneys and liver. It is also a leading groundwater contaminant Shampoos, bath additives, toothpaste, baby wipes
UV-filters Benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone) Biochemical or cellular level changes, disrupts the endocrine system, accumulates in living organisms (e.g. breast milk) and in the environment Lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens
UV-filters 3-Benzylidene camphor (3 BC),4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC),

Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC, Ethylhexylmethoxycinnamate, Octinoxate)

Disrupts the endocrine system, accumulate in living organisms (e.g. breast milk) and in the environment Lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens
UV-filters Octyl-Dimethyl- para-Aminobenzoic-Acid PABA (OD-PABA) Biochemical or cellular level changes, multiple additive exposure sources, can cause photo allergic reaction Lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens
Nano-particles Nano titanium dioxide, nano zinc oxide, nano silver Indications for toxic effects in cells, accumulation in the body – health risks are currently unknown Lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, toothpaste
Fragrances Fragrance, musk compound,  perfume, parfum, scent, aroma Allergy risk, irritate the skin, accumulate in the environment, the body & the breast milk, some can disrupt the endocrine systemNB! These compounds if they are not from natural sources can contain solvents and denaturant agents e.g.Phthalates, which have no labelling obligation. These substances disrupt the endocrine system, potentially sensitising Shampoos, bath additives, lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, toothpaste, baby wipes
Mineral oils Paraffinum liquidum, Wax Not broken down by the human body. Accumulate in the lungs, liver and lymph nodes Shampoos, bath additives, lotions, creams, oils, sunscreens, baby wipes