Safe Skin Care for Babies and Kids
If you’re a regular follower of the Verefina blog, you know that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in it. The skin is not only the largest organ of the body, but also a permeable one that absorbs much of what goes on it.
Children’s skin is no different. In fact, a child's skin (and therefore her body) is more susceptible than that of adults to the effects of topical toxins. There are a couple of key differences between the skin of children and adults. First, kids have a proportionately larger skin surface area; that is, they have a larger ratio of skin surface area to body size. This means that kids are affected by toxins that enter through the skin faster and more easily than adults (source). Children also have thinner skin than adults do, so their skin absorbs toxins more readily and can easily get burned in the sun. For these reasons, it is important to take good care of children’s skin. There are several things that parents, grandparents, and caregivers will want to pay particular attention to when it comes to skin care: soap and shampoo, baby wipes, and sun protection/sunscreens.
Soap and Shampoo
Parents have a huge selection of soaps and shampoos to choose from for their kids. Many of these products, however, contain dangerous ingredients that really don't belong in products intended for children (or for anyone else, for that matter). One such ingredient is triclosan. An antibacterial agent that is frequently added to soap, triclosan is registered as a pesticide with the Environmental Protection Agency. Although it is intended to kill bacteria, there is much debate about whether or not it does so effectively; even the Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that triclosan may be contributing to bacterial resistance to antibiotics (source). Triclosan can also interfere with hormone function, affect normal sexual function and fertility, and foster birth defects (source).
Two other ingredients that parents will want to look out for are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). In addition to being used in soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, SLS and SLES are also employed to clean engines, garage floors, and at car washes! These foaming agents make personal care products sudsy, but they also increase the permeability of the skin, allowing more toxins to enter the body. When they combine with other synthetic chemicals, SLS and SLES can form a class of carcinogens knowns as nitrosamines.
“Fragrances” should also be avoided whenever possible. The combinations of synthetic chemicals that are used to scent many products are considered "trade secrets," which means that manufacturers are not required to list the specific ingredients in them. Rather, they may simply use the word "fragrance" on the label. It is important to be aware that when this term is found in an ingredient list, it could be code for dozens of chemicals (unless the label states what is in the fragrance). Synthetic fragrances can cause allergic and asthmatic reactions, skin irritation, and hormone disruption.
In contrast, Verefina’s Foaming Baby Soap and Kids Foaming Hand Soap are made with 100% natural ingredients, so you never have to worry about any of these toxic additives when you use these products on your children.
Because they are convenient for cleaning little hands and faces, many parents continue to use baby wipes long after their children are potty trained. Some wipes, however, contain ingredients that have been linked to a number of health problems. Methylisothiazolinone (MI) is used as a preservative, but it can cause severe allergic reactions, painful rashes, blisters, itchy eyes, and swelling on the face. MI is also found in some sunscreens marketed for children, and, ironically, in some products labelled as “gentle,” “sensitive,” “organic” or “hypoallergenic.”
The preservative 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3 diol, or bronopol, should also be avoided. This ingredient works by releasing formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group also classifies formaldehyde as an asthmagen, neurotoxicant, and developmental toxicant (source). Bronopol can trigger allergies and skin irritation and may be toxic to internal organs as well. As with many soaps and shampoos, fragrance also shows up frequently in wipes. Be sure to check the label for it.
If you want to make your own wipes, you can try this recipe. I used it for years with my own kids.
Their thin skin puts infants and young children at a higher risk of sunburns. A baby’s skin also lacks melanin, the pigment that provides protection against ultraviolet rays. Just a couple of blistering sunburns in childhood can double the chance that a person will develop skin cancer later in life, so it is critical to protect children’s skin as much as possible.
There are of course many steps that can be taken to prevent burns and sun damage. Babies- especially those under the age of 6 months- should be kept out of direct sunlight. Stay in the shade, use hats, and fully extend the hood on your stroller or car seat. Older kids can be taught to wear hats (wide-brimmed ones are best), sunglasses, and swim shirts, and to stay out of the sun during the middle of the day whenever they can.
Sunscreen is also very important, but not all sunscreens are created equal. Many sunscreens on the market contain chemical sun blocking agents. Oxybenzone, which is a synthetic form of estrogen, can disrupt hormones and cause allergic reactions on the skin. Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, can actually lead to UV-related skin damage. It has also caused lesions on test animals. To avoid this ingredient, check the label on products for retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, or retinoic acid. As I mentioned above, MI is frequently added to sunscreens, so be sure to look for it, too.
Mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients are a much safer alternative. These minerals sit on the surface of skin (rather than getting absorbed into it) and create a physical barrier between the sun’s rays and the skin; they actually scatter and absorb UV rays. Zinc oxide is effective against both UVA and UVB rays, the two forms of radiation that cause the most damage. While titanium dioxide is effective against UVB rays, it does not work as well against UVA rays. When choosing a mineral sunscreen, look for one with natural inactive ingredients as well.
Despite your best efforts, your kids will probably still get burned from time to time. You can treat red or sunburned skin with Verefina After-Sun Mist. The After-Sun Mist contains a wonderful blend of natural ingredients that soothe and heal sunburns. Just be sure to avoid the eyes, and use sparingly on very young children.
Children have sensitive skin that requires especially good care. Reading labels and taking steps to protect children in the sun goes a long way toward ensuring life-long health for your kids.
Boyle, Megan. “Babies and Sun Exposure: A Parent’s Watchlist.” Healthy Child, Healthy World. 7 July 2015. Web. 9 August 2015.
Boyle, Megan. “The 5 Worst Ingredients in Kids’ Body Care Products.” Healthy Child, Healthy World. 22 July 2015. Web. 9 August 2015.
“Differences Between Children and Adults.” The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Web 9 August 2015.
“FDA Taking Closer Look at ‘Antibacterial’ Soap.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 16 December 2013. Web. 10 August 2015.
Innes, Emma. “The Horrific Damage Baby Wipes Can Do to children's skin: Chemical in the Wipes Can Cause an Itchy Red Rash.” Daily Mail. 13 January 2014. Web. 8 August 2015.
Lipman, Frank. “14 Chemicals to Avoid in Your Personal Care Products.” Healthy Child, Healthy World. 23 January 2013. Web. 9 August 2015.
Schlichte, M.J. and R. Katta. “Methylisothiazolinone: An Emergent Allergen in Common Pediatric Skin Care Products.” PubMed. 27 August 2014. Web. 10 August 2015.
“Top Tips for Safer Products.” Environmental Working Group. Web. 9 August 2015.
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Photo courtesy of Verefina
About the Author
Katie Zapotoczny is a Verefina Affiliate and the creator of An Ever Green Life, a blog that seeks to empower readers to make changes that will improve their health and help protect our environment.