It’s kind of scary shopping for personal care products for kids. The regulations for them are the same as cosmetic products for adults, yet with kids’ smaller, still developing bodies, potentially harmful ingredients have a nice, cozy venue where they can go crazy and throw a wild party that trashes the place.
There are a lot of questionable ingredients out there (and for the record, just because something’s natural or organic, doesn’t mean it’s better).
Here’s a quick and easy guide about the biggest, most common boogeymen in your bathroom, and an eco-expert-approved roundup of kid-safe personal care products.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are everywhere. Well, not in the European Union, where they’re banned, but, you’ll find them in products like shampoos and soaps sold at drug stores and supermarkets across North America.
“Research shows that these ingredients can affect the brain and nervous system, cause endocrine system disruption, have reproductive effects and are carcinogenic,” says Donna Bishop, founder and owner of Greenbeauty.ca, a curated eco beauty boutique. (In June, look for its new bricks-and-mortar location at 3471 Yonge St., 2nd floor, in Toronto.).
So, why do manufacturers use them? To make products foam. It’s their only function; it doesn’t add to the products’ efficacy.
The other problem with sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate are that they are likely contaminated by 1,4-dioxane, says Bishop.
1,4-dioxane, which readily penetrates skin, is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is included on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected by the state to cause cancer or birth defects, and is a suspected kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“Because 1, 4-dioxane is considered an ‘unintentional by-product’ it is not required to be included in beauty product labels,” Bishop says.
A quick rule of thumb, she says: avoid products with ingredients that end in “eth”.
Parabens and Fragrance
Parabens and fragrance are in a lot of kids’ products, too. Parabens are a cheap preservative that go straight to the blood stream and mimic estrogen. Fragrance is an umbrella term under which you can hide dozens of questionable ingredients, including phthalates, banned from kids’ toys by the Canadian government, says Bishop.
Another nasty is triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal agent often found in hand sanitizers, deodorants and soaps. “It easily penetrates human skin,” says Bishop. “It’s an endocrine disruptor and interferes with the thyroid hormone. The Canadian government has just started to review this one.”
California line Original Sprout offers salon-grade products compliant with California’s Proposition 65 that are free of ingredients such as parabens, phthalates, sulfates, triclosan, nanoparticles, petroleum oils, propylene glycol (and more) that are linked with estrogen and hormone disruption, cancer and autism.
The Natural Shampoo and Deep Conditioner have the pH of water so they won’t mess with the body’s natural state, says hair stylist and founder Inga Tritt.
The Miracle Detangler is its top seller. It not only keeps your kids’ hair tangle and frizz-free, it contains organic rosemary and organic calendula, natural (and safe) lice repellants. (FYI adults: it helps retain hair colour.)
Bishop likes Consonant’s Lip Therapy. It avoids all the nasty ingredients and substitutes them with sweet almond oil, organic jojoba oil and beeswax. “You know you’re getting the cleanest product available,” she says.
You think you’re doing your kids a favour by using hand sanitizer, but most well-known brands contain triclosan. CleanWell’s hand sanitizers kill germs with thyme oil, a natural antimicrobial, and citric acid, an antioxidant and eco-friendly cleaning agent. They come in a several size options from 1 oz pocket-sized sprays to pocket-pack wipes and 8 oz foaming bottles in scents like citrus and vanilla.
Body Washes and Soaps
Bishop loves the shower crèmes and soaps from Canadian fair trade bath and bodycare brand Tashodi, which gently clean and moisturize at the same time. Her fave scent is antioxidant-rich green coffee and citrus. Her kids like eucalyptus, lemon and spearmint-scented ocean minerals.
If you prefer to streamline your routine, Original Sprout offers Hair & Body Babywash. Use it as a body wash or a shampoo (according to Tritt, it removes cradle cap and eczema in three washes—and is also an effective makeup remover for mom).
Finding a safe alternative for deodorant is difficult, but going au naturel is not really an option after about the age of 10, when the malodorous symptoms of puberty begin to manifest themselves. Lest you want your child surrounded by a smelly haze a la Linus in the Peanuts cartoon, deodorant is a must.
“Despite the ubiquitous email warnings about aluminum in deodorant—which have never been scientifically verified—there are nonetheless plenty of ingredients in conventional deodorant to give pause, including aluminum, parabens, fragrance, triclosan and propylene glycol, a petroleum product,” says Leslie Garrett, author of the book The Virtuous Consumer.
What products do your children use? What are your favourites? We’d love to know!
By Doris Montanera