Are your baby's bath products safe?

by Julie Snyder

Bath productsYour baby loves bath time and you love that baby-fresh smell.

"Kara gets so excited when the tub fills up and the diaper comes off! She just can't get enough of the water. She's so relaxed and smells so sweet and clean after a bath."

Our bodies are like sponges. What we put on it goes in it. When you lather on the shampoo and rub on that sweet smelling lotion, you could be exposing your baby to toxic chemicals.

Baby shampoo and bath products often say "as gentle as water to the eyes" or "safe for baby's delicate skin," but they may be far from safe or gentle.

Toxins in the tub

"No More Toxic Tub", the March 2009 study released by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics examined products from body wash and bubble bath to body lotion and shampoo. Forty-eight well-known children's bath products were independently tested for 1,4-dioxane; 28 were also checked for traces of formaldehyde.

In the group of products tested 61 percent contained both formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane. 82 percent contained formaldehyde at levels from 79 to 610 ppm. 67 percent contained 1,4-dioxane at levels ranging from 0.27 to 35 ppm.

You won't find these chemicals on the label. Stacy Malkan, a lead author of the Campaign's report, points out that "because they're technically not ingredients. They're exempt from current FDA labeling laws."

If these toxins aren't intentionally added to products you might wonder how they get in. Formaldehyde is released over time by common preservatives, which do appear on labels. In 2012, it was flagged by government scientists as causing cancer. 1,4 dioxane has been linked to cancer in animal studies. It's created during a process used to make other ingredients gentler on the skin.

Other harmful chemicals in baby products

Your baby's product tests negative for these two substances. That doesn't ensure it doesn't contain others that could harm your baby. Chemicals such as phthalates and parabens especially concern health advocates.

Phthalates affect a body's hormonal system. Exposure during time of development, like infancy and puberty can interfere with the development and functioning of sex organs.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 81 percent of babies had high levels of phthalates in their systems after using shampoo, lotion and powder. The more products they were exposed to, the higher their levels rose.

Parabens are added to many water-based products to keep bacteria from growing. These hormone disruptors mimic estrogen in the body and have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive problems.

Consumers Respond

Concerned parents, nurses and environmental health advocates world-wide contacted Johnson & Johnson. Their baby shampoo was pulled from store shelves in China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Are the products safer now? That depends where you live. Samples tested in October 2011 showed Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo is safer in some countries, but not in the United States and Canada.

The following month, the company released a statement that it's phasing out formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from its baby products worldwide. In August 2012, they announced they are on track to have baby products reformulated with safer ingredients by the end of 2013.

What you can do?

Research what goes in your baby's bath products in the EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetic Database or download their app and use the barcode scanner as you shop.

Have less baths. Your baby probably doesn't need a bath every day. Plain water and a little gentle liquid soap should have your tiny tot sparkly and squeaky clean.

Contact your legislature and ask for a safety standard for cosmetics to protect babies, children and pregnant women. Many chemicals linked to cancer or reproductive problems that are used in the U.S. are banned in other countries too. The European Union bans 1100 chemicals while the U.S. only bans eight.

Are you worried about the products your baby uses? Have you switched brands or routines?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.