Phthalates (a group of synthetic chemicals that act as a softening agent) have been getting more bad press lately. A recent article in the February issue of Pediatrics about how infants are exposed to phthalates in baby lotions, cream and wipes got me thinking. Im moving to an apartment with a bigger kitchen in a few weeks and Ill be able to set up a changing area close to the kitchen sink so that I can hold my daughters under the faucet instead of using wipes. A French pediatrician in lower Manhattan named Michel Cohen recommends this to all his new moms, and a friend of mine said its worked for her. "He calls it 'ze waterfall,'" she said. "It gets them way cleaner than wipes, and cuts down on diaper rash."
The study in the February issue of Pediatrics, led by Sheela Sathyanarayana, looked at the relationship between phthalate metabolite concentrations in the urine of infants whose moms used infant care products on them. They measured nine phthalate metabolites in 163 infants and found that 81% of the phthalate metabolites were above the limit of detection and that "most associations were stronger in younger infants." Other studies have found that some phthalates can interfere with male reproductive development and cause early female puberty.
Theres a whole baby beauty care industry devoted to fragrant and adorably packaged lotions, powders and ointments, but the reality is that not only are they mostly unnecessary, they can be toxic too. In fact, the more they smell the less natural they probably are. Weve been trained to think that lotions are soothing, that baby powder relieves wetness, but lotions really arent necessary on an infants thin skin, and powder can actually increase dampness, bacterial growth and rashes. Baby powders often contain talc too, which is a carcinogen, and can irritate airways when inhaled.
Kirsten Binder devotes her life to distinguishing the difference between organic and nonorganic cosmetic products. There is still no organic certification for beauty products the way there is for food, so dont be fooled by claims of "92% organic" on the label, or fall for packaging that looks trustworthy and green. Binders website, saffronrouge.com, is a great resource if you need to find the purest possible version. For babies she carries natural products from Weleda, Erbaviva, Jurlique and Dr. Hauschka. When it comes to wipes, be sure to buy pure, alcohol and fragrance-free versions. You can find them at Tushies, and Seventh Generation.
If nicotine can penetrate your skin through a patch on your arm, so can neurotoxins and hormone-disrupting phthalates. Another great resource to get to the bottom of whats in your cosmetic of choice is the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep database. Just type in the name of your product and see how it ranks. Even if you cant live without something, your baby probably can.
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