Did you know?
Your skin is your largest organ, it lives and breathes, and is actually porous at a microscopic level. Some substances can be absorbed directly into your bloodstream through the millions of tiny openings in your skin and unlike your stomach, which has enzymes to break down chemicals your food, your skin is not equipped to deal with the nasty chemicals it is exposed to.
The delicate skin of babies and young children is about five times thinner than an adult’s. Infant skin is still developing its natural protective barrier until the child is at least 12 months old. It is also a lot more permeable than an adult’s, meaning it more readily absorbs anything that gets put onto it (lotions, soaps) or against it (detergent residues). This is why you see so many babies with eczema and other skin irritations.
According to Dr Vincent Crump, an allergy specialist at Auckland Allergy Clinic, “A lot of people will develop a reaction and get labelled as having eczema, when in fact they are probably reacting to a chemical they are applying to their skin.”
Read labels and say no to skin-irritating chemicals
Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulphate (SLS and SLES)
These chemicals are added to products to make them bubble and foam. Yet SLS is an industry benchmark for skin irritancy, and has been used in clinical studies to induce contact dermatitis. Despite this, it’s used in products that contact your skin including laundry and dish detergents, shampoo, hand and body washes, and baby products. SLES is often promoted as a more gentle alternative to SLS but due to the synthesis process it goes through, SLES has been found to be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a suspected carcinogen.
Cocoamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB) is used in dish liquids, hand and body washes and baby products like bubble bath. It’s cheap and effective but contains the impurities amidoamine and dimethylaminopropylamine, which can cause skin sensitisation.
Synthetic Fragrance - A synthetic fragrance can be made up of hundreds or even thousands of chemicals, most of which have never been tested for their effect on human health. One family of chemicals that are often found in synthetic fragrances and are of concern is phthalates. Phthalates are not usually listed on ingredients labels but are endocrine (hormone) disruptors, so it’s a good idea to choose natural essential oil fragrances or fragrance free products if you’re particularly sensitive.
In the laundry - Use laundry products that are free of enzymes, optical whiteners and synthetic perfume. These can leave potentially harmful residues in baby’s bed linen and clothing which is up against their skin 24/7. If they become damp, as babies’ linens often do, the moisture can reactivate residual chemicals and potentially cause irritation.
Always wash new clothing and linen first with a gentle liquid detergent. New linen is often dressed with toxic chemicals. During the processing of conventional cotton into clothing, toxic chemicals may be added at each stage: silicone waxes, harsh petroleum scours, softeners, heavy metals, flame and soil retardants, ammonia, and formaldehyde to name a few.
Natural isn't always healthy
Plant-based ingredients are more sustainable than petrochemical ones, but just because an ingredient is called ‘natural’ or plant-based doesn’t mean it’s safe for your health. SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate), SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) and CAPB (Cocamidopropyl Betaine) are plant based, but the potential issues mentioned above call the safety of their use into question.
Washing your hands with antibacterial soap
New parents change a lot of nappies and are forever in the bathroom washing their hands. It might seem like the right thing to use an anti-bacterial hand wash or soap, yet antibacterial soaps have been proven to have no better cleaning properties than normal soap, and are often loaded with nasty chemical ingredients like Triclosan that strip your skin of its natural protective oils, and can aggravate the skin, leaving it red and itchy.