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Reading Labels: 4 Essential Things to Know When Choosing Skin Care Products

As a mom, you want to choose the best products for your baby, but who actually knows an ethylene glycol from a glyceryl stearate?    Never fear – Baby Pibu™ is here to help.  We’ve put together the 4 essential things you need to know when reading skincare labels.

1)    Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients.  According to the FDA, ingredients must appear in order of concentration.  That means that the ingredient listed at the top is more prevalent than the ingredients at the bottom.  Here’s a handy-dandy cheat sheet of common skincare ingredients and their various functions.

  • An emulsifier allows oil to stay mixed in water.
  • stabilizer balances the ingredients, ensuring each component can  maintain its function and do its part.
  • keratolytic softens our outer keratin layer so it stays soft and retains moisture.
  • humectant retains water in the outer layer of skin, keeping it moisturized.
  • preservative prevents bacterial, mold and fungal growth in products.
  • An emollient is simply a moisturizer.
  • pH adjuster keeps the product’s acid balance stable.

2)    What’s in a name?  Many ingredients have long, complicated names, but even ingredients with long names can still be naturally derived.  Likewise, a product may claim to be “all natural,” but may have no real definition – or research – behind it.  For example, sodium cocoyl isethionate is a mild cleanser derived from coconut oil and zemea propanediol is an emollient/humectant that is naturally derived from corn sugar.  So just because you can’t pronounce it, doesn’t mean it’s bad, and always understand what “botanical” and “natural” means in each product you research.

3)    Learn to be free.  There are some ingredients you just don’t want in your skincare products.  So look for labels that say they are free of  . . . parabens, phathalates, sulfates, sodium lauryl sulfate, and formaldehyde-releasers.

  • Parabens are preservatives used to provide a longer shelf life.  In 2004, the Journal of Applied Toxicology reported that parabens were detected in breast tumors, and contained estrogen-like properties that could influence breast cancer.  While a direct link saying parabens cause breast cancer hasn’t been proven and the FDA doesn’t have enough evidence to show harmful effects, Baby Pibu™ has proactively chosen to steer clear of parabens.
  • Phthalates soften plastics but are also used in personal care products.  In 2009, certain phthalates were banned from children’s’ toys because of biological effects ranging from endocrine disruption to attention deficit disorder.  You want to avoid phthalates in your baby’s skincare.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a cleansing agent that‘s been under scrutiny because of its irritating effects.  While some people can tolerate it, anyone with sensitive skin or eczema should avoid it.  Myths have circulated labeling SLS as a carcinogen, but the American Cancer Society dispels that link.  Bottom line, it can irritate skin and you should steer clear of it in skincare products.
  • Formaldehyde releasers are commonly used in personal care products as preservatives, but they’ve gotten some bad press as allergens.   Specific ones to avoid include:  DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, bronopol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane hydryoxymethylglycinate. Baby Pibu™ products are free of formaldehyde releasers.

While we’re defining and debunking, let’s chat petrolatum — this ingredient gets a bad rap, despite the fact that dermatologists love it and recommend petrolatum as their go-to topical agent when eczema patients have a bad flare-up. It’s one of the only topical agents out there that is 100% allergy free. Baby Pibu™ products do contain petrolatum because of its effectiveness and safety profile.

4)    Fragrance is not your friend.  Yes, it may smell nice, but 2007  the medical journal Dermatitis pronounced fragrance as the allergen of the year. Of the more than 2500 fragrance ingredients (and it takes hundreds of chemicals to produce one fragrance), more than 100 are known allergens.  All those chemicals can lead to contact allergies.  In fact, the European Union’s Scientific Committee has designated 26 fragrance allergens that require labeling on cosmetic and detergent products.  To minimize risk of contact allergy, Baby Pibu™ products are fragrance free.

Reading labels can be a tough task, and yes, sometimes it feels like Chem 101.  But, keep these 4 tips handy the next time you go on the search, and you’ll definitely have an easier time working through the fluff and technical terms.

~ The Baby Pibu™ Team

Supporting Documentation and Research

Sathyanarayana, S.  “Baby Care Products: Possible Sources of Infant Phthalate Exposure.” Pediatrics, 2008, vol. 121, pp. 260-268.

American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003; 4(11) pp.  789-98.

World Health Organization, Geneva 2000.  Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 26, “Benzoic Acid and Sodium Benzoate.”  First draft prepared by Dr. A. Wibbertmann, Dr. J. Kielhorn, Dr. G. Koennecker, Dr. I. Mangelsdorf, and Dr. C. Melber, Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Aerosol Research, Hanover, Germany.

Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety.  “Opinion on Fragrance Allergens in Cosmetic Products.” (SCCS/1459/11). June 26-27, 2012.


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