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Article: Baby Products, Marketing Tactics & Problematic Ingredients

Baby Products, Marketing Tactics & Problematic Ingredients

Baby Products, Marketing Tactics & Problematic Ingredients

Navigating Baby Care Products: A Guide to Choosing Safe and Minimal Ingredients

Choosing the right products for your baby can be overwhelming, especially with the number of options available on the market. Amidst this noise, how can you be sure that you're selecting the best ingredients for your baby? The confusion is further compounded by tricky marketing tactics and a phenomenon known as "eco-gaslighting". In this blog, we'll explore what eco-gaslighting means and delve into common chemicals found in baby products, shedding light on why it's important to understand ingredient lists and look past the marketing terms. 

Understanding Eco-Gaslighting:
Eco-gaslighting is a term used to describe brands that attempt to deceive or mislead consumers by using buzzwords like "eco-friendly," "green-friendly," "natural," "paraben-free," and "BPA-free." Unfortunately, many products labeled with these terms may still contain a significant number of chemicals, often as many as conventional products. 

Founder's Passion for Ingredient Literacy:
At the heart of our commitment to baby care is our founder, Caitlin, a registered midwife/nurse and nutrition consultant. She is passionate about educating parents on the importance of reading and understanding ingredient lists. A simple piece of advice she offers is to avoid ingredients that are challenging to pronounce. Instead, opt for products with simple, minimal, and high-quality ingredients, each serving a purpose.

Common chemicals found in baby products:

1. Fragrance:

Fragrance is a collection of chemicals that are used to give a product a certain smell. We are often exposed to fragrances just like second hand smoking! For instance, ever go to give granny a hug only to be doused in a strong, overpowering scent? Yep, you have just been bathed in fragrance. According to the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) 3,059 materials can be used in fragrance. Many of these, have been linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, allergies and more. In fact, a single scent can contain anywhere from 50-300 chemicals. I could write an entire book just on the negative health outcomes associated with fragrance. Fragrance allergies are estimated to affect anywhere from 2-11% of people which is significant. Some concerning studies suggests:  

  • Low concentrations of fragrance can provoke asthma attacks
  • An average of 4 endocrine disrupting ingredients can be found in fragrance
  • Fragrance can contain ingredients that are known to be carcinogenic. 
  • Synthetic musks and certain fragrance ingredients have been shown to be neurotoxic
  • Many fragrances contain triclosan which has been implicated in PCOS 
  • Many fragrances contain phthalates which have been implicated in Endometriosis 

Interestingly, but not well known, scientists and other health professionals who work in IVF clinics are not allowed to wear perfume or strong deodorant for this reason due to negative effects on embyros and sperm.

2. Parabens:

Parabens are a type of chemical that you will commonly find in all types of personal hygiene, skincare and cosmetic products. They are typically used in products to prevent growth of certain types of bacteria and moulds.

Paraben is an overarching term used for certain chemicals like:

  • Methylparaben
  • Propylparaben
  • Butylparaben
  • Ethylparaben

Parabens are forever chemicals which means that they are invasive and persistent in the environment.

In one study looking at the urine samples of 2,548 people, parabens were found in 99% of all samples. One of the main reasons why parabens are viewed to be detrimental for your health is because they interfere with your endocrine system (e.g. your hormones). One particular ramification of this, which has been studied is the link between breast cancer and paraben exposure. They have also been connected with abnormal sperm, sperm DNA damage and infertility. 

3. Polyethylene Glycol (PEGs):
PEGS are a mixture of compounds that have different molecular weights such as 8 or 100. The smaller the weight, the easier it is absorbed into the skin. PEGS usually act as transporters of other ingredients into the skin. For instance, PEGS will help other chemicals like parabens absorb more readily. This is further enhanced if the skin barrier is already compromised. Depending on the manufacturer, there are risks that PEGs are contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane (a known human carcinogen).

4. Triclosan (TCS):
TCS is added to many personal care items in order to reduce bacterial overgrowth. Research shows that TCS is also easily absorbed by the skin. In a study looking at 2517 people, TCS was found in 75% of urine samples which is concerning. However, this may be on the low end with a Queensland study showing that TCS was found in 100% of the 2400 samples tested. This chemical has been linked to a number of health issues including; Mitochondrial dysfunction, Immunological disruption, Calcium signalling disturbance, Endocrine disruption, reduced thyroid output, cancer development, diminished cardiovascular function. Human studies have also inked elevated TCS in urine and umbilical blood samples with birth defects 

5. Phthalates:
They are typically added to products to assist in creating the fragrance or smell of the product and also to help with lubrication. Similar to parabens, phthalates also seem to impact health via the endocrine system. Outside of the area of reproductive health which is where they do the most damage, phthalates have also been linked with asthma. For instance, one study found that elevated urinary phthalate levels were linked with poor pulmonary function in children. Other potential health issues include gut dysbiosis (imbalance) and thyroid dysfunction, amongst other concerns. 

6. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS):

SLS is found in a lot of cleaning and personal care products that produce foam or bubbles. Baby wash is a common product SLS is added to.

Given SLS is a surfactant, it has been linked with a lot of skin related irritations and may be something you want to avoid if your little one has any existing skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.

In one study looking at 1600 people, it was found that 41% of people had a hyperactive skin reaction to SLS patch testing.

A similar study observing 7 people found that regular contact led to skin irritation, which subsequently subsided when the volunteers were no longer exposed to SLS. More evidence suggests that the warmer the water (we all know our little ones like toasty baths), the more likely SLS will cause issues for the skin. 

7. Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES)

SLES is very similar to SLS and is used for the same purposes. On face value, SLES should be a better option than SLS and shouldn't lead to skin irritation issues. However, the main concern with SLES is how it is processed and what it is processed with. When SLES is being processed it goes through something called ethoxylation which is where there is the potential for contamination with 1,4 dioxane, a possible carcinogen. How many products 1,4 dioxane is found in is unknown. However, one study did find that in 76 personal care products, 82% of products contained the possible carcinogen. 

8. Bisphenol A (BPA):

BPA is an industrial chemical that is commonly found in plastic food containers, plastic baby bottles and other plastic kitchen cookware. BPA is a concern because it leaches into food and water. BPA exposure has been linked to a number of negative health outcomes. In one review study, it was said that BPA tricks the body into thinking it is a hormone and may promote the development of hormone related cancers such as; breast, ovary and prostate. BPA has also been linked to poor brain function, neurodevelopment issues, cardiovascular disease, metabolic issues, inflammation and gut dysbiosis (imbalance of bacteria).

9. Bisphenol S (BPS):

Marketed as BPA-free (A prime example of eco-gaslighting', BPS is another form of Bisphenol with similar health concerns, including metabolic impacts and correlations with gestational diabetes. In one study comparing BPS and BPA, BPS was shown to be more toxic to the reproductive system and was found to increase the risk of certain cancers at the same rate as BPA 

10. Sodium Benzoate:

One of the lesser of the evils but still worth a mention. Sodium benzoate is a preservative derived from benzoic acid and is used to prevent spoilage from bacteria, yeasts, and mould. In vitro studies show that sodium benzoate can lead to DNA damage and has also been linked to ADHD, increased activation of inflammatory pathways, and allergic reactions in some people. 

11. Homosalate:

This is commonly used in sunscreen products or skincare products containing SPF. One of the main issues with homosalate is that it is an endocrine disruptor which has oestrogenic activity.

12. Phenoxyethanol:

Commonly used as a preservative in several different cosmetic products like perfumes and soap. Like many other ethoxylated compounds, there is a risk that phenoxyethanol could contain the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane. Otherwise, phenoxyethanol has been known to be a skin irritant and cause rashes, hives and in some people anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) 

13. Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Methylchloroisothiazolinone (CMIT):

MIT and CMIT are preservatives which are added to personal care products (mostly liquid) and help to prevent bacterial growth. The common concern with products which contain a mixture of these chemicals is that they can cause skin irritation. They are considered two of the most common contact allergens. In Canada, MIT has been banned from use in cosmetics. If you do find it in baby lotions and creams definitely look for cleaner alternatives where possible as it could make bubs uncomfortable if they develop contact dermatitis. 

14. Polysorbate:

Polysorbate 80 has been found to be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane which are both known to be carcinogenic according to the The National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

15. Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB):
A synthetic fatty acid derived from coconuts, CAPB has been labeled an allergen and may cause contact dermatitis.

Take Away Points:

  • Minimal ingredient lists
  • Ingredients you can understand and pronounce
  • Try to minimise toxic ingredients listed in this blog
  • Don’t be fooled by marketing terms, turn the product over and have a look at the ingredient list.

Something else to consider which I will discuss in our next blog (don’t want to make this too lengthy) is the problem with vegetable oils, nut oils and common food allergens being added to our baby products. 


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