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Six Ingredients To Avoid in Kids Products: A Busy Parent's Guide To Buying Safe Sunscreen, Shampoo and More

chemicals in children's products

Shampoos are a lot less fun when you're worrying about toxic chemicals.

A recent study found that children are, on average, exposed to 27 harmful chemicals a day through the body products they use. But when it comes time to buy that new bottle of shampoo or sunscreen, all those studies and warnings can become a daunting jumble.  It’s impossible to keep all the chemicals straight, and comparing one product to another can seem like a hopeless cause when you can’t even decipher what the label says. One thing’s for sure: you can’t trust the way a product’s marketed. Words like “natural” and “organic” are popping up everywhere, but they don’t necessarily mean a product is free of harmful ingredients.

At times like these, you need a simple cheat sheet that tells you how to scan a label for the ingredients that are most likely to be damaging, and quickly choose the safest option for your family. All of the ingredients below have been linked to cancer,  developmental/reproductive toxicity, endocrine disruption, immunotoxicity and/or organ system toxicity. They’re also scarily common in the products we use on our kids every day.

Because children’s bodies are smaller and still developing, they are more vulnerable to certain kinds of toxins. Here are the ingredients the Environmental Working Group recommends parents try to avoid using on their kids:

2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol (antimicrobial compound)
BHA (BHA (a preservative that keeps the shampoo’s oils from going rancid)
Boric acid and sodium borate (another antimicrobial, also used as a flea killer)
DMDM Hydantoin (antimicrobial formaldehyde releaser preservative)
Oxybenzone (sunscreen)
Triclosan (antibacterial, antifungal)

In addition to avoiding the chemicals above, environmental working group recommends the following four tips:

  1. Don’t trust ad hype. Check ingredients. As I mentioned above, “natural” is not always the whole story.Some of the products pitched to consumers as gentle and natural actually contain high percentages of dangerous chemical ingredients. Marketing is powerful. Know your facts so you aren’t swayed by a manipulative message.
  2. Buy fragrance-free products. Fragrances are unregulated and can contain an unknown mix of chemical ingredients. These can be irritating or even dangerous, and since companies are not required to disclose the chemicals in their fragrances, you never really know what you’re putting on your child’s skin. Another option if you like a scented product is to scent it yourself with natural oils, after you check to be sure your child’s skin is not sensitive to these ingredients.
  3. Avoid the use of baby powder. The particles in baby powder can irritate and accumulate in the lungs. Talc based powders are especially dangerous as talc is a known carcinogen.
  4. Use fewer products, less often. The fewer chemicals you put on your child’s skin, the fewer unknowns you’ll have to worry about.

See EWG.org’s cosmetic database for more information about chemicals in children’s products.

photo: Tedsblog/flickr

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