By Ash Stevens
All expectant mamas get asked if they’re hoping for a boy or a girl. But the number one want on every woman’s wish list is to simply have a healthy and happy baby.
Naturally, a mama can best support baby’s health with what she feeds her sweet babe both inside and outside the womb. But in today’s world, this is only one piece of baby’s wellness puzzle. Baby is also “fed” by everything mom and dad rub into baby’s hair and skin.
The home should be stocked with only the safest and healthiest of baby care products. That used to mean loading the medicine cabinet with Johnson & Johnson products, but in the last year, the company has been ordered to pay over $200 million in lawsuit settlements for their baby powder alone. So, it’s not quite so simple after all.
But whaddya know. I’m a label-reading mama with a skeptical eye and a serious infatuation for all things legit and natural. I’ve put together a list of common ingredients to look out for to make shopping easy. I also made sure to include helpful apps, quality companies, and natural alternatives that will help you keep your babe their healthiest and happiest.
INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
It would only make sense that products wouldn’t be stocked on store shelves until they had been proven safe and effective. However, while Canada has deemed over 600 cosmetic chemicals as unsafe and Europe’s list is nearing 1,500, the good ol’ U. S. of A. hasn’t even hit 100. As of 2016, the U.S. has banned only 30 chemical ingredients. When it comes to product safety, we have some MAJOR work to do. There are a lot of chemicals out there that go by a variety of names, but here’s a list of some of the most common ingredients in baby care products that parents would be smart to avoid.
What exactly is fragrance? Well … Nobody really knows. Present regulations allow for a smorgasbord of chemical scents to be mixed together and labeled as “fragrance,” so there’s no way for shoppers to know what they’re buying. But rest assured that any product containing fragrance has a mix of smelly chemicals with a potentially toxic impact on the immune system and organ system. Fragrance is also a suspected allergen and respiratory irritant. If that’s not enough to repel you, fragrance mixes often contain phthalates. Until companies are required to follow rules and list the components of fragrance, this is an ingredient that’s best avoided.
- Propylene Glycol
This lab-made chemical has a reputation as an irritant and allergen of the skin. Propylene glycol may also double as an organ toxin. It’s used in products for various reasons, but it’s use as a penetration enhancer raises an immediate red flag for skin health. Propylene glycol is found in virtually every brand of commercial baby wipes, and you’ll also see it in bath products.
- 1, 4 Dioxane
This probable organ toxin and skin irritant is a known carcinogen, so it’s nothing to be rubbed into a baby’s sweet little body. However, avoiding 1,4 Dioxane isn’t as simple as reading a label. It’s actually a byproduct produced by the processing of petroleum-based chemicals. The biggest offenders are bath products like shampoo, liquid soap, and body wash. Steer clear of products with sodium laureth sulfate, and avoid chemical ingredients labeled as xynol, ceteareth, oleth, PEG, or ethanolamines TEA, DEA, and MEA.
This ingredient has been revered by parents for sun protection, but it’s yet another endocrine disruptor. It can be hard to find a sunscreen without oxybenzone but, as it turns out, it can be even harder to find a sunscreen that qualifies as safe. Check out EWG’s Sunscreen Guide to get the lay-down on the issues with sunscreen and the safest sun products for summer.
These commercial preservatives can mimic estrogen and throw our endocrine system all out of sorts. As endocrine disruptors, parabens are linked to reproductive problems, developmental disorders, cancer, and more. These chemicals come with many different names and varying degrees of data and research on their side-effects, but who wants to be a guinea pig when other options are available?
The general rule to buying safer products is, “If you can’t say it, don’t buy it.” Phthalates are no exception. Various studies show that phthalates act as endocrine disruptors. That’s a big deal, because the hormones of the endocrine system are responsible for growth, metabolism, reproduction, and immunity. Various studies show a strong link between phthalates and fertility issues. Reproductive health may not seem like a big deal for baby as they’re decades away from parenthood, but babies are especially vulnerable to endocrine disruptors because of their small size and their developing bodies. Phthalates can be found in all sorts of products and plastics but baby powders, shampoos, and lotions are the biggest culprits.
In a funeral home it’s used for embalming. In personal care products, it serves as a preservative. It’s tied to respiratory issues, allergic reactions, and other issues, but formaldehyde is most famous for being a classified carcinogen. You can find formaldehyde in products under names like quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol), and glyoxal.
HOW TO FIND SAFE PRODUCTS
Now that you know the common chemical ingredients to avoid, you can look for safer care products. However, reading labels is tricky even to the trained eye. Ingredients can go by various names, and labeling like “all natural” can lead us to believe that something is much safer and purer that regulations actually require it to be. Luckily, there are a few organizations and companies that cut through the fakers and mis-labelers so that the products you buy are actually as safe as you expect them to be.
- Environmental Working Group
The non-profit organization best known as EWG has put together a team of environmental experts, scientists, researchers, policy makers, and lawyers who dedicate their work to promoting human and environmental health. They’ve spent years compiling data on ingredients and products so that people can find products that are truly safe. Visit their Skin Deep cosmetic database for in-depth reports, or use their Healthy Living app for quick info.
Up and coming green company Healthiest specializes in finding and providing safe products that are truly family friendly and mom approved. They begin with products that have an EWG rating no higher than 2. From there, products must be reviewed and approved by Healthiest’s expert panel of health practitioners. If you’re looking to buy the safest products without all the research and app finagling, then the Healthiest Shop is the the easiest way to go. Their prices make them even more worthwhile. I’ve compared a few items to products I’ve bought from health food stores and off Amazon and Healthiest’s prices either match up or beat them. First-timers can knock prices down even more by saving 20 percent with coupon code BABYGEAR20.
- 21 Bundles
This monthly subscription service may be the ultimate resource for new and expectant mamas. For starters, 21 Bundles is a sister company of Healthiest. That means that ALL the products they ship out have been heavily researched and vetted for safety. So, moms not only get healthy and safe products, but they get them delivered straight to their door with zero hours of reading and analyzing. I really love all of that and the health benefits are huge, but that’s not my favorite part. The 21 Bundles subscription can begin as early as the first month of pregnancy, with each pregnancy bundle catering to the season and mom’s present needs in pregnancy (ie. products for aching feet, preggo acne, soft skin and stretch mark prevention, etc.). Once baby’s due date rolls around, the bundle shifts into a subscription box for baby.
From birth on, shipments include products based on the season and babe’s current needs and stage of development. Boxes are packed with great things for baby, but they’ll also include a few things mom will appreciate. I’m 20 weeks pregnant and have an infant, so I’ve been getting both their pregnancy bundle and their baby bundle. I’m hellaciously picky when it comes to products, and cheap, and I’m no stranger to natural products and companies. However, there isn’t a single product from 21 Bundles that failed to leave me with stars in my eyes. I’ve enjoyed the results I’ve seen so much… I would actually go online and buy them! I can’t recommend this subscription enough. If you think this subscription is up your alley, order 21 Bundles with coupon code BABYGEAR20 to save 20%.
Now it’s time to hear your thoughts. Do you have products that you love and swear by? Are their apps or blogs you turn to for the latest reviews and safety info? Tell us all about it in the comments below!
Ash Stevens is a gardener, a writer, and a fan of all things green. Her love for health and sustainability began with her journey into motherhood, and it’s grown exponentially ever since. She’s passionate about living a healthy lifestyle through gardening, cooking, and spending time outdoors. If she isn’t writing or reading up on exciting green trends, she’s probably playing Connect Four or swimming in the river with the kids. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.