ingredients to avoid in baby products

29 Potentially Harmful Chemicals in Baby Products

Being a new parent is hard. We make it easy to understand the ingredients to avoid in baby products – and replace them with natural alternatives.

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.

Harmful Baby Products Chemicals (alphabetical list):
1,4-Dioxane | Bisphenol A (BPA) | Bleach | Bronopol Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) | Chlorine | DMDM Hydantoin | Ethanolamines | Flame Retardants | Formaldehyde | Hydroquinone | Nanoparticles | Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) | Oxybenzone | Padimate-O | Parabens | Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) | Phenoxyethanol | Phthalates | Polyacrylamide | Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs) | Quaternium-15 | Retinyl Palmitate | Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) | Synthetic Fragrances | Talc | Toluene | Tributyltin (TBT) | Triclosan

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.

1. Bleach

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:

2. Sulfates

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.


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

3. Phthalates

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.

6. Talc

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.

7. Parabens

Parabens are used to extend the shelf lives of personal care products. While they’re allowed in the United States, parabens are banned in the European Union.

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.

9. Oxybenzone

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.

11. Formaldehyde

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.

Baby Shampoo & Body Wash, Bubble Bath & Organic Baby Lotion

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: Formalin, Formic aldehyde, Methanediol, Methanal, Methyl aldehyde, Methylene glycol, Methylene oxide

12. Phenoxyethanol

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
  • PhE
  • Dowanol EP
  • Phenoxetol
  • rose ether
  • phenoxyethyl alcohol
  • beta-hydroxyethyl phenyl ether

13. Perfluorochemicals (PFCs)

Perfluorochemicals are a group of chemicals used to make products resistant to stains, water, and grease. They are found in non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and stain-resistant fabrics, including some baby clothing and bedding. Studies have linked PFC exposure to developmental problems, liver damage, and immune system dysfunction. They are also considered endocrine disruptors.

How to Avoid PFCs:

Choose products labeled as PFC-free or look for alternatives made from natural materials. Be cautious of items labeled as water, stain, or grease-resistant, as they may contain PFCs.

14. Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs)

Nonylphenol ethoxylates are surfactants found in some cleaning products and detergents. They have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, potentially affecting hormonal balance and reproductive development. NPEs are also harmful to aquatic life when they enter the water supply.

How to Avoid NPEs:

Opt for eco-friendly cleaning products that do not contain NPEs. Look for products with labels that specifically mention being NPE-free.

15. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)

Butylated hydroxyanisole is a synthetic antioxidant used as a preservative in food and personal care products. The National Toxicology Program has classified BHA as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” and long-term exposure to BHA has been linked to liver, thyroid, and kidney problems.

How to Avoid BHA:

Check ingredient lists for BHA and avoid products that contain it. Choose products with natural antioxidants like vitamin E and rosemary extract as alternatives.

16. Chlorine

Chlorine is a common disinfectant used in cleaning products, swimming pools, and tap water. It can cause respiratory and skin irritation, and has been linked to the formation of harmful byproducts like trihalomethanes (THMs), which are carcinogenic.

How to Avoid Chlorine:

Opt for chlorine-free cleaning products and water filters that remove chlorine from tap water. If you have a swimming pool, consider alternative sanitizing methods like saltwater or UV systems.

17. DMDM Hydantoin

DMDM hydantoin is a preservative used in personal care products, including baby shampoos and lotions. It releases small amounts of formaldehyde, which can cause skin irritation, allergies, and is a known carcinogen.

How to Avoid DMDM Hydantoin:

Check ingredient labels for DMDM hydantoin and choose products that do not contain it. Look for alternatives with natural preservatives, like those derived from plants.

18. Bronopol

Bronopol is a preservative used in personal care products, including baby wipes and shampoos. It has been linked to skin irritation and allergies, and can break down into formaldehyde and nitrosamines, which are both carcinogenic.

How to Avoid Bronopol:

Choose products that do not contain bronopol and opt for those with natural preservatives instead. Look for baby products labeled as "preservative-free" or containing plant-based preservatives.

19. Padimate-O

Padimate-O is a chemical found in some sunscreens that absorbs UVB radiation. However, it has been shown to produce free radicals that can damage DNA and has been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.

How to Avoid Padimate-O:

Choose sunscreens that use mineral-based active ingredients, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, instead of chemical filters like Padimate-O. Check the ingredient list on sunscreen labels before purchasing.

20. 1,4-Dioxane

1,4-Dioxane is a synthetic industrial chemical used as a solvent and is also a byproduct of some manufacturing processes for personal care products, including baby shampoos and body washes. It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is also known to harm the environment.

21. Polyacrylamide

Polyacrylamide is a synthetic polymer used as a binding and thickening agent in personal care products, including baby lotions and creams. It can break down into acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and a possible human carcinogen.

How to Avoid Polyacrylamide:

Check ingredient labels for polyacrylamide and choose products that do not contain it. Opt for products with natural binding and thickening agents like xanthan gum or guar gum.

22. Triclosan

Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent used in a variety of personal care products, including antibacterial soaps and toothpaste. Studies have linked triclosan to endocrine disruption, antibiotic resistance, and harm to aquatic life. The FDA has banned the use of triclosan in over-the-counter consumer antiseptic wash products, but it may still be found in other products.

How to Avoid Triclosan:

Choose products that do not contain triclosan and opt for those with natural antimicrobial agents like tea tree oil or thyme oil. Check product labels for triclosan before purchasing.

23. Nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are extremely small particles used in some personal care products, including sunscreens and cosmetics. While they may improve product performance, there is concern that they can penetrate the skin and cause harm. Some studies have suggested that certain nanoparticles may have toxic effects on cells and organs.

How to Avoid Nanoparticles:

Choose products that are labeled as "non-nano" or "nano-free." Look for sunscreens that use larger, non-nano particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients.

24. Ethanolamines

Ethanolamines, such as monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA), and triethanolamine (TEA), are chemicals used as emulsifiers and foaming agents in personal care products, including baby shampoos and washes. They have been linked to skin irritation, allergies, and organ system toxicity.

How to Avoid Ethanolamines:

Check product labels for the presence of ethanolamines and their abbreviations (MEA, DEA, TEA). Choose products that do not contain these chemicals, and opt for natural alternatives like coconut-derived surfactants or plant-based emulsifiers.

25. Hydroquinone

Hydroquinone is a skin-lightening agent found in some skin care products and is used to treat skin discoloration. It has been linked to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and potentially cancer. While not typically found in baby products, it is still important to be aware of this chemical.

How to Avoid Hydroquinone:

Choose products that do not contain hydroquinone and opt for natural alternatives for treating skin discoloration, such as licorice root extract or vitamin C.

26. Retinyl Palmitate

Retinyl palmitate is a form of vitamin A found in some sunscreens and skin care products. It has been linked to increased skin sensitivity, irritation, and potentially cancer when used in combination with sunlight.

How to Avoid Retinyl Palmitate:

Choose sunscreens and skin care products that do not contain retinyl palmitate, and opt for safer forms of vitamin A, such as beta-carotene.

27. Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs)

Polyethylene glycols (PEGs) are petroleum-based compounds used as thickeners, solvents, and softeners in personal care products. PEGs can be contaminated with toxic impurities like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are linked to cancer and organ system toxicity.

How to Avoid PEGs:

Choose products that do not contain PEGs and opt for natural alternatives like plant-based glycerin or vegetable oils. Check product labels for "PEG-free" claims.

28. Quaternium-15

Quaternium-15 is a preservative used in some baby care products, such as shampoos and wipes. It can release formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, and can cause skin and eye irritation.

How to Avoid Quaternium-15:

Choose products that do not contain quaternium-15 and opt for those that use alternative preservatives like sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate. Look for "quaternium-15-free" on product labels.

29. Toluene

Toluene is a solvent used in some baby care products, such as nail polish. It has been linked to nervous system damage and reproductive harm.

How to Avoid Toluene:

Choose baby-safe nail polish that does not contain toluene or opt for water-based nail polishes. Look for "toluene-free" on product labels.

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.

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