(June 2011) Have you been to a baby shower lately? The volume of products that new parents seem to need can be overwhelming. I know I felt that way last year when I was expecting. Some my favorite gifts turned out to be those that I use every day to care for my daughter’s skin and health—and my own well-being. They’re a great combination of loving and practical.
It’s dispiriting that conventional items made especially for babies and new moms are not always as gentle as their packaging would have you believe. In fact, many contain irritants or potentially toxic ingredients. Here are a few guidelines for anyone who wants to assemble a worry-free care package for babies and their parents.
Focus on Safety
A useful first stop is the Environmental Working Groups’ Skin Deep database, an online safety guide for cosmetics and personal care products. At www.cosmeticsdatabase.com, you’ll find ratings of more than 65,000 products containing over 7,000 ingredients. The “Babies” section covers categories including wipes, diaper creams, soaps, shampoos, sunscreens, and personal care for new moms. If the database doesn’t currently list a specific brand or formula you’re interested in, enter its ingredients list to receive a provisional report.
The following components are among those that might give you pause:
• Parabens: preservatives commonly used in skin care products, mimic estrogen and are possible carcinogens.
• Phthalates:chemicals found in plastics and some personal care products, appear to compromise developmental and reproductive health.
• Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate: are foaming agents that may irritate skin. They may also contain the likely carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.
• “Synthetic fragrance”: is an undisclosed, unregulated blend of chemicals that can trigger asthma, allergies, headache, and other health concerns.
Bath Time and Body Care
Watching her splash in the bath reminds me just how much my six-month-old learns about the world through her sense of touch. That only strengthens my resolve to choose “clean” ingredients to care for her delicate skin.
In baby washes, look for coconut- or vegetable-derived sudsing agents and preservatives derived from vitamins A, C, or E. Often a liquid soap can double as shampoo—just be certain to protect those peepers!
Moisturize with lotions containing food-based oils such as apricot seed, coconut, palm, sunflower, or olive. Aloe vera, vitamin E, and vegetable glycerin are three other petroleum-free sources of moisture. Natural baby oils are useful for soothing dry skin or giving gentle massages.
In bath products and skin care alike, look for scents provided by pure essential oils listed by name on the ingredients panel. As with adults, some babies have especially sensitive skin, so if choosing scented products, start with mild essential oils such as chamomile and calendula. It’s wise to introduce new formulas one at a time and watch for signs of irritation.
For diaper changes, consider chlorine-free wipes with plant-derived cleaning agents and preservatives. And avoid talcum powder. It can irritate little lungs and is associated with some forms of cancer. Parents may want to allow sensitive skin to air dry or use unscented, cornstarch-based powder.
Just for Mom
During pregnancy, my daily routine included gobs of moisturizer. But since the skin absorbs everything applied to the surface, I double-checked labels for toxin-free ingredients. This remains true today, when my duties involve snuggling and feeding a little one. Moms can benefit from plant-based TLC too—from pure soaps and moisturizers to herbal bath blends and balms for tender postpartum bodies.
Drinking a cup of organic herbal tea can also be an affirming ritual for new mothers. It supports physical and emotional wellness while reminding a woman take a few minutes to nurture herself. Ingredients such as fennel and anise support healthy milk production while red raspberry leaf, lemon balm, and chamomile encourage balance and calm.