By Diba Tillery, RN, BSN
Recent media attention concerning chemicals in baby products has caused much concern and alarm. The No More Toxic Tub report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a non-profit agency whose goal is to bring attention to harmful chemicals in our skin care products, informs us that many of the baby products that we know, love, and have used for many years contain cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals, specifically, 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde. In addition to these two harmful chemicals, parents have to worry about the presence of phthalates and parabens in their personal care products as well as their baby's. These chemicals are not federally regulated here in the United States, but have been banned in other countries. 1,4-dioxane has been banned in Europe and formaldehyde is banned in Japan and Sweden. The U.S. and Europe have banned three phthalates (DEHP, DBP, and BBP) from children's toys.
1,4-dioxane is not a product added intentionally, but instead is considered a contaminant and therefore is not required to be listed on product labels. This chemical is used as a foaming agent and found in many of the products that we use today, such as shampoos, liquid soaps, deodorants, laundry detergents, toothpastes and much more. 1,4-dioxane is readily absorbed into the bloodstream potentially causing damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidneys and may even result in death.
Formaldehyde exposure occurs everyday in the air that we breath and in the food that we eat. Formaldehyde is a colorless, odorless gas which can cause throat, nose, skin, and eye irritation. Exposure can cause coughing, wheezing, watery eyes, itching, and skin irritations. Formaldehyde exposure has been linked to allergies and asthma in children. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies formaldehyde as a carcinogen and high levels of this chemical have been linked to the development of nose, lung, and brain cancer as well as leukemia.
Phthalates are another man-made chemical found in many of our personal care products. Phthalates are used to make plastics flexible and used in many fragrance oils to help prolong the fragrance's scent. A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that many young infants are frequently exposed to phthalates in common baby lotions, powders, and shampoos thereby making them more vulnerable to the developmental and reproductive adverse effects of these chemicals. Phthalates have been linked to hormonal changes, birth defects, reproductive abnormalities in baby boys (i.e. low sperm count, testicular cancer, deformities of the penis), and damage to the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
Parabens are used as a preservative in many cosmetics, foods and pharmaceutical products. Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen and when absorbed through the skin, parabens have been linked to breast cancer and male reproductive abnormalities.
Recently, even natural and organic products have been shown to contain these worrisome chemicals. Bottom line, read the label. Here is a list of the worrisome ingredients to watch for in you and your baby's products:
- Avoid products containing "Fragrance". Oddly enough, the various chemicals present under the name "fragrance" do not have to be listed individually, thereby hiding them under the broad category "fragrance" (this is where common phthalates hide).
- Avoid products containing the following ingredients which may contain 1,4-dioxane:
- PEG compounds (example: PEG-80)
- Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS)/ Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
- Avoid products containing the following ingredients which may contain formaldehyde:
- DMDM hydantoin
- imidazolidinyl urea
- diazolidinyl urea
- 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (Bronopol)
- sodium hydroxlmethylglycinate
- Avoid products containing the term "phthalate" (example: monoethyl phthalate).
- Avoid plastics that contain the recycling number "3" which is a possible source for phthalates.
- Avoid products containing the word paraben.
- Avoid other worrisome ingredients:
- Boric acid
- Sodium borate
- Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate
- Benzyl alcohol
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Review product safety ratings on the Skin Deep database.
Sure, there is only small amounts of these chemicals in our baby products which are stated to be below the acceptable levels, but isn't it possible that repeated exposure over a life-time can increase the risk for cancer? Here are some sad cancer statistics: Cancer is the leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 15. Cancer kills more children than any other disease. The median age for a child with cancer is 6 years old.
Maybe, just maybe, we can help reduce these sad and shocking numbers by becoming more informed and making better choices in the products that we use, the food that we eat and the water that we drink.