What's Lurking in Your Infant's Skin Care Products?

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Tips on How to Avoid Chemicals in Skin Care Products that Can Cause Irritation

Any new parent will agree that there is something so wonderful about the way a baby smells straight from a bath. But, did you ever stop to think that the delightful aroma that lingers every time we shampoo, powder and lotion our little one’s bodies may be placing their health at risk?

Hectic schedules and exhaustion are nothing new to parents. With such busy lives it’s very easy for moms and dads to run into their local grocery store and pick up any familiar brand of baby skin care product straight off the shelf, without taking the necessary time to read all the product ingredients. Time-crunched families may fail to realize that they may have actually purchased a product that is loaded with ingredients so unnatural, that every time they bathe or refresh their baby, they are exposing her to a chemical with toxic effects.

The Facts Behind Phthalates

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health and environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., explains that phthalates (pronounced ‘thah-lates’) are a family of compounds made from alcohols and ophthalmic anhydride. They are oily, colorless, odorless liquids that do not evaporate readily. The chemical industry produces billions of pounds of phthalates each year that are primarily used in vinyl products, plastics, solvents, toys, household products, cars, plastic bottles and containers. They are a key ingredient in cosmetic and personal care products, helping lotions to penetrate and soften skin.

The chemical industry declares that there are no conclusive studies that have been conducted in humans that suggest phthalates are dangerous in the amounts that we are currently exposed to. However, several consumer and environmental advocacy organizations and medical experts disagree. Phthalate exposure during infancy and into childhood has been linked to low birth weight, hormonal and endocrine abnormalities.

Studies Reveals Startling Results

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Rochester tested urine samples of nine different phthalate metabolites in 163 infants in 2008. Their study, Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure, revealed that all of the urine samples collected contained at least one phthalate at measurable levels. Eighty percent of these samples had measurable amounts of at least seven different types of phthalates.

“We found that infant exposure to phthalates is widespread, and that exposure to personal care products applied onto the skin may be an important source,” says Sheela Sathyanarayana, an acting assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Pediatrics. The phthalate associations were found to be the strongest among infants younger than 8 months old.  These infants may be more vulnerable to the developmental and reproductive toxicity of phthalates due to their immature immune systems.

What makes the Pediatrics study so unique is its focus. Several of the concerns raised about phthalates over the years have centered on the ingestion of phthalates, as they have also been found in the plastics that make up numerous children’s toys, baby bottles, nipples and teething rings. Now, this study has provided the vital evidence confirming that in fact, phthalates are also transmitted to babies through the skin via personal care products.

Congressional Legislation Actions

Several members of congress have introduced a new bill that has the potential to alter the landscape of chemical regulation in the United States by empowering researchers to take swift action against these potentially harmful chemicals. The Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011 would give the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and a panel of experts selected by the director, the power to ban up to 10 chemicals from commerce each year by categorizing them as being of high concern. Those chemicals would become unlawful to use 24 months after receiving that designation. As of July 13, 2011, the bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

What You Can Do To Protect Your Children

Our skin is a complex filtering system that blocks certain substances and absorbs others. What you rub on your skin can end up inside your body, so you should choose personal care products with the same attention you give to choosing healthy foods. This is especially important for babies, as their developing bodies are vulnerable since their hands and feet often end up in their mouths. Babies can, quite literally eat the products you put on them. But, fear not, as there are a variety of simple steps that parents and caregivers can take to reduce their child’s exposure to phthalates.

  • Limit the amount of baby care products you typically use on your baby, especially if your infant is 8 months or younger (unless certain products are medically prescribed, for example, if your little one has been diagnosed with eczema or a severe case of diaper rash).
  • Look for products that are labeled phthalate-free. While this can be difficult (since skin care manufacturers are not required by the FDA to list phthalates), you can always research the product on the internet or use the Environmental Working Group’s Safety Guide to Cosmetics and Personal Care Products and research by product, ingredient and/or company.
  • A word of advice—as phthalates are also added to containers to make them more flexible and durable, the chemical can leach from the container into a product. You’ll need to determine whether a product’s container is phthalate-free.

Jennifer Lacey and her family try to incorporate green living into their lives each day. She is a freelance writer and editor, and proud mom of one.