Harmful chemicals can be in many of the most common baby and household products we buy, and young children face an increased risk from exposure to these chemicals. That’s why Yasmine Moussa, who founded parenting blog The Gentle Nursery, is such an advocate of parents spending the extra money to buy organic for their kids.
Why are organic products worth the investment for parents?
Babies aren’t tiny adults — they’re more vulnerable than adults are because their systems are rapidly developing. For that reason, even small exposures to everyday chemicals can have a big effect on their developing bodies. Babies are also extra susceptible because harmful chemicals like flame retardants can migrate into household dust, and babies are often playing at floor-level and put their hands in their mouths.
Organic and non-toxic baby products are worth the investment because they allow parents to be proactive about protecting their baby from being overloaded by chemical exposures to phthalates, PVC, flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, formaldehyde, harmful preservatives, and other harmful chemicals. Many of these chemicals have been linked to numerous health risks, including allergies, developmental delays, endocrine disruption, neurological impairment, immunotoxicity, cancer, and more.
And there’s not enough regulation to protect children to the level at which parents like myself would feel comfortable. So there’s an army of parents who strive to make non-toxic choices for their children to help avoid the exposure and accumulation of these chemicals in their babies and young children.
For example, a gentle baby shampoo may contain only a few natural ingredients, whereas some of the baby shampoos we grew up with still contain a mélange of chemicals like PEG-80, which is often contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane — both of which are linked to cancer.
A lot of traditional baby shampoos contain “fragrance” as a nondescript listed ingredient, which usually indicates the presence of several chemicals like phthalates that don’t have to legally be disclosed. There are better, safer alternatives widely available now and it is worth the investment to avoid exposing babies and children to such harmful chemicals and health risks.
When it comes to baby clothes that make direct contact with your baby, buying certified-organic baby clothes helps avoid exposing your baby to pesticides and herbicides — as well as petroleum-based synthetic fabrics that are highly processed using numerous chemical processes.
We live in a convenience-based world and sadly that means more plastic usage and more chemical exposure. While some babies may use mainstream products and grow up seemingly fine, the sad truth is that developmental disorders like ADHD, autism, and allergies are at an all-time high. Minimizing your family’s chemical exposure is a worthy effort that will pay off in the long term.
What are some red flags for ingredients in baby products?
There are so many things to look out for when choosing baby products. Before I buy anything for my kids, I try to always review the ingredients list — or find out from what the product is made. If there are chemical ingredients I don’t recognize, I’ll spend time reading up on them. I reference a number of sites like the Environmental Working Group’s chemical database.
While you can’t always avoid synthetic chemicals, you can make sure to reduce your exposure to them. Here are a few things to look for:
- Look up any ingredients you don’t recognize. Make sure they aren’t rated high for toxicity or contamination concerns.
- If you find a concerning ingredient, try and find an alternative product. If there are no reasonable alternatives, look and see where the ingredient falls on the list of ingredients. If it’s one of the first ingredients, you can assume it is in high concentration and you should probably not use the product. But if it’s one of the last ingredients listed, you may want to proceed anyway, depending on what the ingredient is and what the concerns are.
- Be wary of any products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. This means that they are hiding the true list of ingredients that make up the fragrance, and it’s usually ugly. Because of a loophole in the law, companies can list “fragrance” instead of disclosing all of the ingredients they are actually using to scent their products. This often includes dangerous chemicals like phthalates, which are linked to endocrine disruption, allergies, asthma, and reproductive-system toxicity.
- Think twice when a company tells you there are no “added” chemicals. Sometimes the chemicals are added before the company buys the raw materials.
- Be careful when it comes to anything that is waterproof or water resistant. This is usually done by adding perfluorinated chemical treatments to fabrics.
- Look for certifications such as GOTS, GOLS, and Oeko-Tex as applicable.
- Don’t fall for greenwashing! For example, mattress manufacturers will say their mattress is organic when only the outer cover is made with organic cotton (and the rest of the mattress is conventional, and contains flame retardants and polyurethane foam).
Be a savvy shopper and vote with your wallet. When in doubt, contact the company and ask them as many questions as you’d like! Most companies are getting used to getting questions about the materials they use, as they should be.
Can you speak to the importance of flame retardant products?
It is so important to avoid flame retardant chemicals whenever possible, especially in your home. Flame retardant chemicals are associated with numerous health risks, including immunotoxicty, reproductive toxicity, endocrine system disruption, neurological delays, and cancer. In addition to this, they are highly ineffective at reducing the spread of fires. In fact, many firefighters are actively against the use of flame retardant chemicals because they make fires much more toxic.
Manufacturers use flame retardant chemicals to meet government flammability standards because the chemicals are cheaper than using naturally flame-resistant materials like wool.
I am adamant against the use of flame retardant chemicals in crib mattresses and car seats, two areas where babies have high exposure and frequent contact. Another area of concern is children’s pajamas that are flame resistant — I always encourage my readers to buy tight-fitting cotton pajamas instead of synthetic pajamas that have been sprayed with flame retardants.
Over time, flame retardant chemicals migrate into household dust, which is where babies get a lot of exposure because they play on the floor and then put their hands into their mouths.
What are some best practices for first time parents putting together a nursery?
When it comes to preparing for your baby, allocate your budget to what matters most — anything that makes direct contact with your baby, ends up in their mouth, or impacts their air quality should be as pure as possible. This includes the crib mattress, bassinet, toys, car seat, baby clothing, baby carrier, and shampoos and lotions.
Work on improving the air quality in your home with a HEPA air filter and by opening your windows regularly.
Be careful when buying secondhand — some older items may not meet current standards, and may have higher levels of heavy metals or banned substances. Some items may have accumulated mold or been kept in a home where smoking was allowed. Make sure you know the source of any products that you buy secondhand and that you trust the previous owner.
Even as organic-minded as I am, I would sometimes draw the line and buy conventional products — and would later regret this decision. For example, when my youngest was a baby, he had eczema and would put everything in his mouth, even the baby carrier straps. I later realized that the baby carrier was causing eczema flare-ups!
It is so important to minimize your baby’s exposure to harsh chemicals. If we don’t see the direct impact now, we will see it later on. I firmly believe this is one of the most important things parents can do for their little ones.