Written by Tenley Haraldson.
As a new parent, ensuring the safety of your bundle of joy is at the top of your parenting list. However, from bottles to onesies to cleaning products, there’s a seemingly endless slew of ingredients to avoid in baby products.
Our article outlines potentially harmful chemicals in baby products that have been linked to health issues – and why you'll never find them in Puracy's lineup.
Common Chemicals to Avoid in Baby Products
While this is in no way an exhaustive list of ingredients to avoid in baby products, these chemicals tend to crop up on “worst of” lists – and for good reasons.
Bleach exposure can cause reactions like eye irritation, blurry vision, burning throat, chemical burns, and shortness of breath. As a highly reactive substance, it can also cause serious issues when combined with the wrong chemicals (e.g. ammonia, alcohol, acids). Even clothing washed in bleach can cause dermatological reactions in people with sensitive skin.
How to Avoid Using Bleach
There are plenty of excellent ways to clean household surfaces and fabric with gentle, effective products:
- Whitening clothes without bleach can be done easily and efficiently.
- When used correctly, our hydrogen peroxide disinfectant kills more than 99.9% of germs, bacteria, and viruses. It also helps break down dirt, gunk, and grime.
Sulfates (like SLS and SLES) are incredibly good at removing dirt and oil from a wide variety of surfaces. You'll find that they're often used to increase foaming in bath and cleaning products.
But SLS can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. It’s also harsh on sensitive skin and eczema – especially in concentrations greater than 2%. Unfortunately, concentrations can vary between 1%-30% in cleaners and personal products. This can be even higher for bubble baths and body washes.
SLS vs. SLES
Note: While SLES was developed to be gentler than SLS, the manufacturing process can create 1,4- dioxane, a potential carcinogen.
How to Avoid Sulfates
Opt for "sulfate-free"product labels and be on the lookout for the following ingredients:
- Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)
- sodium laureth sulfate (e.g. SLES, sodium lauryl ether sulfate)
- ammonium laureth sulfate (ALS)
- sodium stearyl sulfate
- sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (SLSA)
- sodium coco sulfate
Get Great Lather with Plant-Based Baby Products
Plenty of sulfate-free formulas exist – but few have the satisfying lather that we've worked hard to develop. In fact, our team of biochemists perfected the use of coco glycinate, an ingredient that gently foams and cleanses skin.
Also known as phthalate esters, phthalates are artificial fragrance additives that appear in 75% of products with “fragrance” on the label. You'll also spot these petroleum byproducts in many plastic toys and food packaging.
Because they aren’t chemically bound to the polymer, phthalates tend to migrate to the substance’s surface and into our bodies. Numerous studies have linked exposure to phthalates to a wide variety of health issues, including: sex hormone disruption, reduced sperm count, and reproductive organ malformation.
Ways to Avoid Phthalates
Phthalates are known as “the everywhere chemical” – That means you’ll need to do some research when selecting baby products:
- Look for labels that clearly state “phthalate free.”
- Select fragrance-free items with transparent ingredient lists (like all of our baby essentials).
- Because phthalates are often used to plasticize PVC, opt for medical-grade silicone or natural substances for baby bottles, toys, etc.
4. Synthetic Fragrances
Synthetic fragrances are much cheaper than plant-derived sources. Often sourced from petroleum by-products, substances include benzene derivatives and aldehydes (both known carcinogens), as well as toluene (a neurotoxin).
If your personal care products include the term "fragrance", you may not know what ingredients are being used. Aside from color additives, companies aren't actually required to share fragrance ingredient details (including safety information) with the FDA. This is thanks to “trade secrets.”
How to Avoid Synthetic Fragrances
Stick to fragrance-free products with clear ingredient lists, and ones that are especially formulated for sensitive baby skin. Whenever you choose a newborn baby care product, ensure that it's sourced from naturally-derived fragrances (like organic essential oils).
5. Bisphenol A (BPA)
An increasing number of studies show that babies consume a shocking number of microplastics every day. The biggest baby products to avoid are baby bottles and canned foods that use bisphenol A (BPA).
Consumption levels rise dramatically when BPA-based products are heated up and/or scratched. Even exposure at lower doses has been linked to an increased risk of:
How to Avoid BPA
Since BPA resins often coat the inside of food cans, try to purchase food in glass containers – or create your own baby food at home. More importantly, avoid heating plastics in the microwave.
If you choose plastic items, avoid polycarbonate plastics (which may be marked with ‘PC’) and opt for polypropylene products (e.g. PP, plastic #5). You can also select “BPA-free” products.
Note: Some plastics marked with recycle codes #7 and #3 may still contain BPA.
Commonly used in baby powder to prevent chafing and calm diaper rash, multiple studies have shown that naturally-occuring asbestos has been known to contaimate talc during the manufacturing process.
The Easiest Way to Avoid Talc
We recommend using talc-free baby powder to safely soothe your baby’s behind and sidestep chafing issues. Cornstarch is another excellent talc alternative.
From seemingly innocuous skin irritation to serious reproductive organ dysfunction and fertility issues, infant exposure to parabens has also been linked to long-term weight issues during the first eight years of life.
How to Find Paraben Free Baby Products
Many paraben-free baby products include this status on labels, but you can also check for the following chemicals: methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben.
8. Tributyltin (TBT)
Occasionally found in the top sheet and adhesive areas of disposable diapers, tributyltin (TBT) is a known cardiotoxic, gonadotoxic, emtryotoxic, and fetotoxic substance that can cause serious harm to a fetus.
Environmentally speaking, tributyltin is extremely toxic to marine life and has been linked to imposex issues among aquatic animals.
How to Avoid TBT
The simplest way to avoid tributyltin is by choosing organic, non-toxic, and/or biodegradable diapers. In recent years, cloth diapers have also become increasingly popular.
In recent years, chemical sunscreens have come under criticism for their use of oxybenzone. Widely used in sunscreens for its effectiveness against UV rays, the European Commission recently proposed an oxybenzone concentration limit of 2.2%. In the US, sunscreen manufacturers are allowed to use concentrations up to 6%.
In addition to the growing evidence that oxybenzone kills coral, the FDA also determined that oxygenzone:
- Is a potential hormone disruptor in humans
- Has high rates of topical allergic reactions
- Can be detected in breast milk, urine, blood, and amniotic fluid
- Can be detected topically/in blood for weeks after use
- May affect children much more than adults (due to higher absorption).
How to Avoid Oxybenzone
The easiest way to avoid oxybenzone is selecting sunscreens that use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (which are also considered ocean-safe).
10. Flame Retardants
From car seats to clothing, many baby products come coated with flame retardants. However, the CPSC warns that compounds in organohalogen flame retardants (OFRs) are carcinogenic and exposure may be linked to:
- developmental disability
- increased hyperactivity
- advanced puberty
- hormone and/or immune disorders
Since children tend to “mouth” and spend time on the floor, they’re extremely vulnerable to exposure. Studies have routinely shown that – compared to adults – children have greater concentrations of flame retardants in their bodies. Much of this is linked to babies and toddlers “mouthing” and spending time on the floor.
How to Avoid Flame Retardants
While it can be difficult, avoid flame retardants by:
- Choosing furniture that’s labeled with “no added flame retardants added”
- Selecting products that don’t use polyurethane (including foam)
- Investing in a quality HEPA filter.
For more ideas on purchasing eco-friendly baby products, check out our newborn baby checklist.
Like parabens, formaldehyde is often added to personal care and cleaning products (as an antibacterial agent and preservative). It’s also found in secondhand smoke and many pressed wood products. While exposure can cause skin irritation and allergic responses, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and severe respiratory irritant that can cause central nervous system damage.
More worrisome is the fact that multiple chemicals can actually release formaldehyde – even when formaldehyde isn’t initially used in the product formulation.
Avoiding Formaldehyde in Baby Products
The simplest place to start: Ban smoking in your home. When choosing pressed wood and particle board products, select those that are labeled as CARB-compliant (either phase 1 or 2) or NAF (no-added-formaldehyde).
Check chemicals in baby products and cleaning items for the following ingredients:
- Formic aldehyde
- Methyl aldehyde
- Methylene glycol
- Methylene oxide
Phenoxyethanol is typically used to prevent spoilage and extend shelf lives. Due to the growing unpopularity of parabens (#7 on our list), many manufacturers have began substituting with the lesser-known phenoxyethanol.
Minor topical reactions (such as rashes and hives) have been noted in clinical studies. More worryingly, in 2008, FDA released a statement cautioning mothers to stop using a nipple cream that contained phenoxyethanol (as well as chlorphenesin) because of potential respiratory issues, central nervous concerns, vomiting, and diarrhea in infants.
Common Names for Phenoxyethanol
As with most chemicals, phenoxyethanol may be referred to in various ways:
- Phenyl cellosolve
- ethylene glycol monophenyl ether
- Dowanol EP
- rose ether
- phenoxyethyl alcohol
- beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether
We Strive to Develop the Safest Baby Products Anywhere
That’s why we worked with PhD chemists, dermatologists, and pediatricians to create the safest, most effective plant-based products possible. Full transparency, no exaggerations, no omissions. That’s our promise to you.
You’ll never have to wonder if Puracy products are safe for your family and your home: They are and they always will be.