From Parabens to BPA: The Easy Way to Keep Your Kids Toxin-Free

An Eco-Friendly Guide for KidsWe consider ourselves to be pretty well-informed, but the green movement is so strewn with hearsay that it can be hard to be sure what’s actually true, and where our “organic” dollars are best spent (because, let’s be honest, buying organic can be expensive).

So we did a bit of digging, because this is important info to know.

Numerous studies have linked prenatal pesticide exposure, and exposure during a child’s early years, to a host of issues like asthma, lower IQ, heart and limb defects and ADHD.

“Reducing exposure to environmental toxins is especially important for babies and young children because many toxins accumulate in fatty tissues, and babies have more body fat, proportionately, than adults,” says Amy Marlow, registered dietician, New York State certified nutritionist and co-author of 'HAPPYBABY: The Organic Guide to Baby's First 24 Months.'

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“This means that toxic chemicals can build up in greater concentrations in babies and young children than in adults. Plus, babies put everything in their mouths, increasing exposure to chemicals that may not otherwise get into our bodies.”

In particular, pay attention to the chemicals and toxins in items like pacifiers, bottles and eating utensils. You don't need to shell out for special products that tout their holistic qualities; the easiest way to make sure you're buying safe products is to peruse the ingredient list for red flags, like the ones we've listed for you in the chart below.

As a rule of thumb, if you can't pronounce half the ingredients, the item might not be as "natural" as it claims to be.

Substance Found In Linked To Use Instead
BPA (Bisphenol-A) Plastic numbered 7*Including baby bottles, utensils, canned food and formula packaging, pacifiers and teethers Hormonal and behavioral changes Plastic numbered 1, 2, 4 and 5, or glass or metal products*If using formula, go for powder packaged in non-steel cans
PVC (polyvinyl chloride) Baby bottles, pacifiers, teethers, toys, water- or stain-resistant clothing Cancer Products marked “PVC-free”
Talc powder Soaps, deodorants, baby powder, food processing Breathing problems, ovarian and lung cancer Talc-free or cornstarch powder
Phthalates Fragrances, shampoos, lotions, powders Cancers and infertility Phthalate-free products
Parabens Shampoos, creams, baby lotion, ointments Allergic reactions and alteration in estrogen levels Natural, food-based products; paraben-free products*Don’t forget to avoid parabens if you’re pregnant or nursing, since they can pass through your skin and get into your blood stream and breast milk
Polyeurathane Plush toys Bronchitis, coughing, skin and eye irritations *Be careful around anything your baby may put into her mouth Non-toxic, organic-stuffed or wood toys
Non-organic Cotton Bedding, cotton dolls and stuffed animals, which are likely to end up near a child's mouth Cancers (from the pesticides commonly found in conventionally grown cotton) Organic cotton

Here are some other general rules of thumb:

  • Avoid fragrances: Even some products advertised as “fragrance-free” still contain a masking fragrance to cover up the smell of chemical ingredients, so check labels for chemical names—or the vague catchall “fragrance.” Choose products with natural ingredients like essential oils instead.
  • Skip the baby powder: There’s no evidence that talc-based baby powder prevents diaper rash … but it can cause breathing problems and lung damage if your baby inhales it. If you really want to use powder, go for a cornstarch-based variety instead. Pour a small amount into your hand (away from your child’s face), then apply sparingly where you see chafed skin. Make sure you wash away the powder with each diaper change so it doesn’t build up on the skin.
  • Less is more: You know the saying “as smooth as a baby’s bottom”? Kids don’t need tons of lotions, creams and powders to keep their skin healthy, so don’t slather them with products. Stick to mild soap and water, and spot-treat any dry skin problems or rashes that develop.
  • Don’t trust the hype: Green products are not regulated as rigorously as food. If a product claims to be “natural” or “organic,” it might not really be chemical-free. Always read labels!

If you’re looking for safe lotions and skin products for your child, you can also check out Good Guide for suggestions.

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  • Denise

    If fragrance is a problem for you, remember that essential oils can be can be just as irritating and sensitizing as any other “fragrance,” especially for those with allergies, sensitive skin, or eczema.  Also, fabric softeners are highly fragranced.  My family is much healthier since we got over the idea that everything had to smell “good.”