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Safer Skincare for Children: The Green Mama guide to healthier, organic, "green" skincare for babies and children

 The Green Mama’s Guide to Safer Skincare for Children

Children are vulnerable

Children are sponges—they soak up what they hear and they soak up the chemicals their bodies come in contact with. The blood-brain barrier that helps block chemicals from penetrating brain tissues is not fully formed until a child is 6 months old.  Children’s skin is an average of 30% thinner than adults and absorbs more of what it contacts and they breathe more air and air contaminants relative to their weight. The EPA says that carcinogens are typically 10 times more potent for babies, and some chemicals are up to 65 times more potent than for adults.  The National Academy of Sciences says children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of chemicals because

  • a child’s exposure is greater pound-for-pound
  • children are less able to detoxify and excrete chemicals
  • children’s developing organs are more vulnerable to damage
  • children have more years of life in which to develop diseases triggered by early exposure

No federal review

The FDA has no power to require that cosmetics be reviewed for safety before they are put on the market. The EWG has found that 77% of the ingredients in 17000 reviewed children’s products have never been assessed for safety: “Everyday children are exposed to an average of 27 personal care products ingredients that have not been found safe for kids.” Diaper wipes alone can contain propylene glycol (found in antifreeze), parabens (a preservative), and perfume (associated with phthalates and other toxins).

In the U.S., beauty care products are not required to label their ingredients and in Canada there are many loopholes that allow companies to hide toxic ingredients. Neither country requires pre-market testing for human safety of chemicals used in cosmetics. As a result, most products found on the shelves aren’t proven safe: A recent survey by the David Suzuki Foundation found 80% of beauty care products contained at least one industrial chemical known or suspected to be carcinogenic, a reproductive toxin, or an endocrine disruptor.

Phthalates again

Phthalates have come under particular scrutiny recently for their potential harm to children, particularly long-term damage to the reproductive system. They are most often associated with plastics, but they are also in many cosmetics, personal care products, and medications where they are used for color and fragrance.

Watch out for sunscreens

Sunscreens are some of the worst offenders. SPF, safe, healthy, waterproof are all claims that are used without standards or enforcement. Many sunscreens not only protect children from harmful UVA rays, but also contain ingredients that become dangerous when exposed to sunlight, toxins, and synthetic fragrances. Some of the best known companies are the worst offenders. You will be surprised at some of the offenders, learn more at

In the Real World: Tips, Strategies, & Suggestions

  • You can greatly reduce exposure to all ingredients that haven’t been proven to be safe for children by using homemade baby care products (e.g. olive oil to moisturize skin).
  • Try to purchase any items possible from small, local companies that have only the purest and most natural, edible ingredients.
  • Don’t be fooled into thinking you need lots of different products for your child or that you need to “perfume” her with baby powder (always discouraged because they can aggravate their lungs), or fragranced soaps or shampoo. These products can be quite harmful to her health.
  • Use “edible skincare”: If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your baby’s skin.
  • Instead of disposable wipes, make your own. You can use warm water from a carafe and clean cotton rags at your diaper station, or make your own by mixing a couple drops of tea tree oil and/or lavender with water and spraying on cotton rags or flushable disposable rags, or just clean your baby with soap and water in the sink.
  • Remember that good ol’ soap and water is very effective at keeping a child or baby clean and minimizing spread of diseases. Buy a good, safe soap (refer to the EWG list) and wash hands thoroughly (at least 10 seconds of rubbing). Bar soap (labeled soap, not beauty bars or face bars, are usually the best.) A great option for liquid soap is Dr. Bronners.
  • Develop systems to minimize reliance on wipes, barrier creams, and baby powders. Change your baby frequently and try cloth diapers (thus minimizing the need for barrier creams and powders).
  • Avoid ALL anti-bacterial soaps and sanitizers. Antibacterial soaps should not be used on children according to the FDA, Health Canada, and the American Medical Association. (Antibacterial soaps cannot distinguish between the good bacteria that your body needs to stay healthy and the bad bacteria, it just kills them all making the body more vulnerable to harmful bacteria.)  Overuse of antibacterial products has been linked to allergies and asthma.
  • Avoid alcohol based sanitiziers (e.g. Purell). They have been linked to alcohol poisoning in kids and can also lead to over-killing of good bacteria (see above).
  • Visit to find out the safety of your skincare items. When you find a good product, buy plenty so it will last (and you won’t have to run-out and get something unsafe).  
  • Learn (or carry in your wallet), the 20 most dangerous skincare ingredients: 

20 common ingredients to avoid

compiled from the EWG and David Suzuki Foundation with their notes on harmful effects.

Always avoid these ingredients 

  • 2-BROMO-2-NITROPROPANE-1,3-DIOL; and  DMDM HYDANTOIN: forms cancer-causing chemicals.
  • BHA and BHT: Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Causes skin de-pigmentation. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • OXYBENZONE: Allergen; forms free radicals to damage skin.
  • TRICLOSAN: Used in most antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and deodorants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • BORIC ACID & SODIUM BORATE: Industry experts say it is unsafe for infants.
  • DIBUTYL PHTHALATE & TOLUENE (Found in nail polish/makeup): Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Coal tar dyes: P-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits. P-phenylenediamine is used in some hair dyes; other colours are used in a variety of cosmetics. Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.
  • Parabens (including: methylparaben, butylparaben and propylparaben): Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.

Always avoid these ingredients for children and when possible for adults

  • FRAGRANCE/Parfum; Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics. Many fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma; some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity and hormone disruption. Can be harmful to
    fish and other wildlife.
  • FLUORIDE; Teeth stains; neurotoxic when swallowed
  • CETEARETH & PEG compounds; PEGs (e.g., PEG -60): Used in some cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with impurities, e.g. 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.
  • TRIETHANOLAMINE (TEA); Allergen that forms cancer-causing chemicals
  • IODOPROPYNYL BUTYLCARBAMATE; Chemically similar to neurotoxic pesticides
  • DEA-related ingredients: Used in some creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • PETROLATUM: Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. Can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.
  • Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives: Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.
  • Siloxanes: Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
  • Sodium laureth (or Lauryl) sulfate: Used in some foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer.

Written by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama.  Learn more at Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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