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Safe Baby Skin Care Products

Portrait of blonde woman reading label of shampoo in pharmacy. Let’s face it- when we think about our babies, we think about safety. And, of course, we only want to use safe skin care products on baby’s delicate skin. Here, we provide a few tips of what to look for on a product label of a baby skin care product to determine if it is safe to use.

Tip #1: Does natural make a product safe?

Many of us associate “natural” with wholesomeness and goodness. However, the FDA has not defined the term “natural” and has not established a regulatory definition for “natural” in cosmetic labeling. This means that you really don’t know how “natural” the product is that you are buying.

No matter what the FDA says, is natural really better? There is current belief that natural products are good and products with synthetic ingredients are bad. Instead of lumping all natural as good and all synthetic as bad, think about it this way. There are both good and bad natural ingredients and there are both good and bad synthetic ingredients. Here is an example of how natural can cause something undesired and bad. There are a variety of plant extracts that can be irritating and allergenic to the skin. Think about poison ivy. It is natural but a leading cause in contact dermatitis. There is also a multitude of natural plant ingredients and oils that can not only be allergenic but can also cause damage to the skin’s collagen by irritating the skin and clog up pores to worsen acne-prone skin. Until we have a peer-reviewed, research-based study showing that all natural ingredients are better on your skin than synthetic, be cautious of only choosing natural. Natural does not always mean a safe baby skin care product.

Tip #2: Clinically proven does not necessarily mean safer.

“Clinically proven” is another term that is commonly used on labels of skin care products. However, be cautious of associating “clinically proven” with safe. There is no official definition or regulation on the meaning of clinically proven. Clinically proven may mean the product was shown to help or benefit one individual to thousands of individuals. Unfortunately, clinically proven does not mean the product went through the rigors of testing like prescribed medications. A safe baby skin care product can exist without having clinically proven on its label.

Tip #3: Look for the Seal of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association

“Clinically tested,” like clinically proven, is commonly used on labels of skin care products but has no real definition or regulation of the term. Skin care products are commonly clinically tested to show that they are non-irritating, hypoallergenic and non-phototoxic. Non-irritating means what it says. Irritating products usually cause inflammation of the skin and resulting erythema of the skin. Irritation can actually lead to skin damage and breakdown of collagen. Hypoallergenic means a product causes fewer allergic reactions. When certain ingredients interact with ultraviolet rays, they can morph into an ingredient that can cause a phototoxic reaction. Of course, non-phototoxic is what you want.

Instead of looking for clinically tested, look for products that carry the Seal of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association. This seal can be associated with a safe baby skin care product. Because there is a lack of regulation by the FDA on labels of OTC skin care products, certain organizations have tried to help the public on filtering through products to find the right one. One such organization is the National Eczema Association (NEA). The NEA is an informational and patient advocacy association composed of patients, patient advocates, doctors and dermatologists specializing in eczema. The NEA has a Seal of Acceptance (SOA) on skin care products that have gone through the rigors of meeting its criteria. In general, products carrying the SOA by the NEA are for individuals with eczema or sensitive skin. The SOA panel considers testing data for irritancy, allergy risk and phototoxicity. It also considers the products ingredients, content and formulation data to determine safety. Look out for the SOA by the NEA as one way to search for safe baby skin care products.

Tip #4: Avoid these specific ingredients…

Finally, look for what ingredients skin care products are free of

Parabens, phthalates, sulfates, formaldehyde-releasers, sodium lauryl sulfate, and fragrance is a short list of what safe baby skin care products should be free of.

Parabens are some of the most commonly used preservatives in cosmetic products. Preservatives are agents placed in products to prevent bacterial and mold/fungal growth. This allows for longer shelf life. The most common parabens used are methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben. The hype regarding parabens came about in a 2004 published paper in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. It was reported that parabens were detected in breast tumors. The paper also discussed how parabens have estrogen-like properties and could possibly influence breast tumors. It is important to note that the study did not prove that parabens cause breast cancer or are harmful in any way. Other studies have shown that parabens do not exhibit enough true estrogen influences and suggest that we should not link breast tumors with parabens found in cosmetic products. Currently, the FDA does not believe there is enough evidence to show harmful effects from parabens. 

Phthalates are used to soften plastics; however, they are also found in non-plastic products such as fragrances, personal care products, and nail polish. In 2009, certain phthalates were banned from children’s toys. Phthalates possible biological effects range from endocrine disruption to attention deficit disorder. DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are the most common ones found in personal care products. Be wary of fragrances because these phthalate chemicals can be in fragrances but not be listed out separately. In 2008, before any pronounced concern of phthalates, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article in Pediatrics that stated infants exposed to infant personal care products such as baby shampoos and lotions showed an increased level of phthalate in their urine. The study could not conclude that there was any association between these findings and any resulting significant health effect.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant or cleansing agent that is particularly scrutinized for its irritating effects. This has been shown and proven through multiple medical journals. Many people can tolerate SLS’s cleansing effects but individuals with sensitive skin or eczema should avoid SLS products. SLS is a known irritant and not a known carcinogen. There are myths out there that try to link SLS with cancer but the American Cancer Society dispels that myth.

Formaldehyde releasers are commonly used in personal care products as preservatives to prevent bacterial and mold/fungal growth. It has received attention in the dermatological work because it has been found and proven to be a sensitizer and common allergen. There is also a concern for cancer despite the demonstration that it can not be absorbed through the skin. Here are a list of formaldehyde releasers to avoid: DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, quaternium-15, bronopol, 5-bromo-5-nitro-1,3-dioxane hydryoxymethylglycinate.

In 2007, the medical journal, Dermatitis, pronounced fragrance as the allergen of the year. There are more than 2500 fragrance ingredients and more than 100 are known allergens. It should be appreciated that it may take hundreds of different chemicals to produce one fragrance. Remember, fragrance is there for us adult’s pleasure and not our baby’s pleasure.

Use these 4 tips to help you find your safe baby skin care product. To keep it real simple- look for fragrance free skin care products that carry the meaningful Seal of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association.



Supportive documents for fragrance:

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(11):789-98.

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