Personal Care Products
Your choice for soaps, bubble baths, shampoos and body lotions is very important when you are trying to provide the safest environment for your child. Current government regulations do not require manufacturers of personal care products to put their products through rigorous safety testing before offering them for sale to the public. As a consequence, many personal care products contain harmful chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or accidentally ingested. Girls have higher levels of some common endocrine-disrupting chemicals that are used in beauty products, and research shows that they can be harmful even in small amounts. It turns out that the old adage “the dose makes the poison” doesn’t apply to endocrine disruptors.
Products designed specifically for children are often dyed with bright, artificial colors and scented with artificial fragrances to make them “fun” to use. Ironically, these non-essential additives are particularly harmful to children.
A growing number of manufacturers offer thoroughly tested and safe personal care products intended for use on infants and children. Many of their products are made from food-grade or plant-based materials and do not contain any chemicals known to be harmful.
When it comes to cleaning hands, most pediatricians agree that washing with soap and warm water is just as effective as using an antibacterial product in preventing the spread of disease. Frequent hand washing throughout the day is just one of those good habits that will help protect your child throughout their life. Pure castile (plant-based) bar or liquid soaps with no added artificial dyes, chemical preservatives or fragrances are good choices.
Antibacterial soaps should be avoided because many of them contain triclosan, a chemical pesticide that raises both health and environmental concerns. You may feel safer using antibacterial products, but ironically, their use has been shown to add to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, or “superbugs.” Triclosan is also found in many other products, including toothpastes, toothbrushes, combs, toys, sandals, socks, pens and computer keyboards. Be wary of products whose labels say “antimicrobial,” “germ-free,” or “germ-fighting.”
The use of alcohol-based sanitizers is also discouraged, as they are flammable and can leave a toxic residue on hands. Plant-based, waterless hand cleaners and sanitizers can be used if you are away from home or not near a source of water. Hand wipes and sprays containing thyme oil as a disinfectant are safe and using these in certain circumstances is just fine.
A little sun exposure (10 to 15 minutes every day) is beneficial to your child’s health. Sunshine is the body’s best source of vitamin D, which helps fight off colds and flu as well as other diseases. If your child is going to be outdoors, especially when the sun is most intense (in most places, this is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), the safest way to prevent damage to their skin is to protect him/her with a hat and long-sleeved shirt and pants made from darker colored tightly woven fabrics. When fabrics get wet they lose some of their ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). If your child is going to be outdoors for an extended period, try to keep them in the shade as much as possible.
Sunscreens may actually do more harm than good if they are formulated with toxic chemicals that can be absorbed through your child’s skin. Chemicals to avoid in sunscreen products include PABA, dioxybenzone, oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), titanium dioxide, parabens, TEA, and DEA.
Barrier-type sunscreens containing the mineral zinc oxide are your safest choices. Zinc oxide is the only FDA-approved ingredient for use on children under six months of age. The regular form of zinc oxide leaves a white residue on the skin, which in this case you want. Be wary of zinc oxide products that are clear because they are made from nano-sized particles and their safety has yet to be proven.
Cosmetics also fall into the category of poorly regulated and tested products, so care must be taken to choose only those brands that give full disclosure of ingredients. Fingernail polish and nail polish remover contain particularly harmful chemicals, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. For that reason, your child should never accompany you to the nail salon. If your child really wants to make their nails look pretty, soak and pamper them and look for buffers that can polish nails to a high shine with no chemicals at all. If you find yourself in a battle over this, insist on using the least toxic nail products available and use in a well-ventilated room...or better yet, outdoors.
And finally, nothing is more comforting or relaxing for your child than a warm, soothing bath. If your child likes bubble baths, you can make your own safe and pure bubble bath solution using liquid castile soap, glycerin and perhaps a drop of essential oil. You can also give your child special attention after a bath (or any other time) with some simple massage techniques. Research shows that massage facilitates weight gain and decreases stress hormones. Touching in the form of gentle massage has long been established as therapeutic for both the provider and the recipient. Sesame is a good choice for massage oil because it also supports the immune system.
The non-profit Environmental Working Group created a database for personal care products and cosmetics, focusing on potential health concerns. You can search by product or ingredient to get a science-based evaluation.
Green Mama Tips – “Chemicals to Avoid in Everyday Personal Care Products” sourced from Northwestern Health Sciences University
The National Institute of Environmental Health Science, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), publishes research on chemicals in personal care products. See their page on this issue.
HealthyChildren.org is associated with The American Academy of Pediatrics and has useful, well-documented information about environmental toxins and how they impact our children. Visit their Tips for families page on How to Choose Safer Personal Care Products.