Whether you consider yourself a "crunchy," natural, tree-huggin' mama or not, every mom wants to know that the personal care products she's buying for her baby are as safe as they are effective. But unfortunately, labels like "natural," "vegan," "eco-friendly," "organic" get thrown around a lot without much regulation. It can be maddeningly difficult for even the savviest parent to distinguish between green-washed marketing and what's actually non-toxic.
Thankfully, looking for key ingredients and language can help. Here, your ultimate guide to steering clear of sneaky chemicals to get the cleanest, greenest, and safest products out there ...
Ingredients to avoid
- Oxybenzone - Or any of its relatives, such as avobenzone. This chemical, often found in sunscreens, lip balm, conditioner, and moisturizers (often the ones that tout built-in sun-blocking capabilities), readily absorbs into the body and has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage -- even low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy.
- Fragrance - Also referred to on products as "parfum," or limonene, geraniol, "linalool," or "cinnamal." Fragrances, which frequently contain phthalates, can trigger allergic reactions and other health problems.
- Parabens - These commonly used preservative chemicals, often found in moisturizers and hair products, may be referred to on labels as methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben, and isobutylparaben. They're hormone disruptors, mimicking estrogen in the body, and have also turned up in breast cancer tumors.
- Antibacterials - Often found in soaps and body washes, chemicals like triclosan and chloroxylenol (or PCMX) may be harmful to your little ones. Triclosan creates dioxin, a carcinogen, as a by-product. A Swedish study found high levels of this bactericide in human breast milk. Meanwhile, chloroxylenol is also a suspected immunotoxin and skin or sense organ toxicant, as well as a gastrointestinal or liver toxicant.
- Mineral oil - Often found in baby oil, this petroleum product is one to avoid, especially when there are less toxic products available, like organic safflower, grapeseed, coconut, wheat germ, sesame, apricot kernel, almond, jojoba, or vitamin E.
- PEG - The most common emulsifier in hand lotions, it can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogen.
- TEA - Found to be a frequent sensitizer and cause of contact dermatitis. It can also release carcinogenic formaldehyde, as can DMDM hydantoin and quaternium-15.
- Lanolin - Used in lotions, this animal product can be contaminated with pesticides. It's also a common allergen.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate - This cleansing agent, often found in soaps and shampoos, is a known irritant for little ones with sensitive skin or eczema.
Sneaky language to look for
The following terms are not regulated by the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and therefore can't be trusted to accurately reflect a product's safety. (Scary reality check: 89 percent of all ingredients in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety by any publicly accountable institution.)
- Natural, all-natural
- Environmentally friendly
Labels that really do mean something
The Leaping Bunny - Considered the highest standard in cruelty-free, companies that show the leaping bunny logo must back up their cruelty-free promise by taking part in on-site audits that assess the validity of each licensee’s claim to a “no animal testing” manufacturing policy.
Cruelty Free - This logo means the manufacturer behind a product has pledged to PETA that they will not conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals.
USDA Organic - Many products claim to be organic, but unless they feature the USDA certified organic label, they have nothing to back their claim. The USDA Organic Standards are the "gold standard" for personal care products, and to be certified USDA Organic, a baby skincare product must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients.
If you're ever in doubt about a product, you can always look it up on sites like GoodGuide.com and Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
What do you watch out for when shopping for "greener" baby products?