The last time we took a trip down the drugstore aisle we couldn’t help but wonder–why does it seem like every single kid’s product comes labeled with some sort of character and light-up attachment?
And, are all those bells, whistles and “for kids” stamps costing us more—or are they products we really need to protect our little ones?
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We asked doctors in every field: How can you determine when a product is actually better for kids’ health, and when is the “for kids” stamp purely hype?
They gave us the lowdown on when you should stick to the kiddie concoctions, and when you can save big by getting the regular stuff.
The Low-Down: ”Soaps for children are preferable because they tend to have fewer additives. However, kids may also use adult cleansers–as long they aren’t too harsh,” says Tanya Kormeili, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA. Since kids don’t have oily skin or bad body odor, they don’t need cleansers with a lot of chemicals, she explains.
The Verdict: Kid versions are better, but gentle adult cleansers are okay, too.
What to try: Dr. Kormeili says cleansers like Dove, Cetaphil, Neutrogena or CeraVe are gentle enough for kids.
The Low-Down: When it comes to shampoos, dishing out a little extra cash for baby shampoo is worth it because “the ‘no tears’ formulas can really make a difference for children,” says Joel Schlessinger, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of LovelySkin. To make your child’s shampoo last longer, just add water. “Shampoos are, in general, very thick and can easily be diluted by about ½ without any significant consequences,” says Dr. Schlessinger. He also adds that you can use baby shampoo as soap for young children, which will save even more money.
The Verdict: Use ‘No Tears’ specific formulas for young kids; otherwise adult versions are just fine.
What to try: Johnson’s Baby Shampoo or Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Fragrance Free Shampoo & Wash.
The Low-Down: Although toothbrushes with characters, flashing lights and other kid-pleasing “perks” may make brushing more interesting for your child, they aren’t necessary. “As long as the toothbrush has soft bristles and is the right size for the child’s mouth, any toothbrush will do, even the inexpensive ones,” says Grace Yum, DDS, a pediatric dentist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago and founder of Yummy Dental and Orthodontics for Kids. One thing you do want to pay attention to, whether you’re buying a “kid” branded toothbrush or a generic one, is the bristles. “If they fall out easily, don’t use it because many toddlers chew on brushes and can swallow the nylon bristles,” says Dr. Yum.
The Verdict: Adult versions (of the appropriate size) are just fine.
What to try: Any brand that has soft bristles and is small enough for your child’s mouth.
The Low-Down: If you have a baby, you can save your money here. Dr. Yum says babies who don’t have back molars really don’t need toothpaste at all. If your young child is two or older, a kiddie toothpaste may be best. “Because kids are not reliable at spitting, children’s toothpaste has less fluoride and cleaning agents,” says Dr. Yum. If you’re in a pinch, a tiny dab (less than a smear) of adult toothpaste (without whitening agents) is fine, Dr. Yum says.
The Verdict: Stick with kid-friendly until your child is 11; after that adult versions are just fine.
What to try: Aquafresh Kids Fresh ‘N Fruity or Kid’s Crest Cavity Protection Sparkle Fun Toothpaste.
The Low-Down: Kids under age 6 don’t really need mouthwash. For older children up to age 11, mouthwash made specifically for kids is better. “Adult mouthwash is meant to kill germs and freshen breath, whereas kids’ mouthwash is used to strengthen enamel with the fluoride in it,” says Dr. Yum. Also, adult mouthwash is harsh, and can be spicy for kids, but the kiddie ones have less alcohol and taste better.
The Verdict: Go for the kiddie version until your child is around 11-13; after that, adult versions are just fine. Note: If your older child’s adult teeth are cavity-prone, he may still need children’s mouthwash for the fluoride, or you can find an adult brand with fluoride.
What to try: Listerine Smart Rinse or ACT Anticavity Fluoride Rinse
The Low-Down: There are many chemicals–fragrances, alcohol and dyes–in adult moisturizers that can be irritating to young children’s skin, Dr. Kormeili says. Lotions made specifically for babies or children tend to have fewer additives, so it’s better to go with a lotion with the “kid” stamp, or a gentle adult lotion that is fragrance- and alcohol-free.
The Verdict: Stick with fragrance, alcohol and dye-free versions, whether it’s labeled kid-friendly or not.
What to try: Aveeno Baby Daily Moisture Lotion or CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion.
The Low-Down: “There really is no difference between ‘kids’ and adults’ sunblock,” says Cheryl Wu, M.D., a pediatrician at LaGuardia Place Pediatrics in New York City. “The main ingredients are the same; the ‘version’ just comes in cuter packaging.” So, rather than grabbing a bottle simply because it say “kids” on the label, read the ingredients. “For children, it’s best to use ‘physical sunblock’—those that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient, as opposed to the ‘chemical sunblock’—those that have avobenzone, oxybenzone, etc.,” says Dr. Wu. That’s because physical sunblock sits on the skin while chemical sunblock is absorbed. “Babies and children have a much larger surface-area-to-mass ratio than adults, so we don’t know if these chemicals are too much for their little body,” she explains.
The Verdict: Adult or kid-friendly brands are okay–as long as they aren’t chemical-based.
What to try: Kiss My Face Kids Natural Mineral Sunblock Lotion, SPF 30 or Badger Sunscreen SPF Unscented 30+.
The Low-Down: Most kids can tolerate regular detergent, as long as it’s free of fragrances and dyes, Dr. Schlessinger says. He recommends parents skip the fabric softener, though, because it can be irritating to children’s sensitive skin.
The Verdict: Adult versions are just fine.
What to try: All Free and Clear.
The Low-Down: ”Washing is always better if you have access to it,” says Dr. Schlessinger, since there are certain germs and bacteria that aren’t fully destroyed by hand sanitizers. If you can’t get to soap and water, a baby wipe will clean little hands in a pinch. If you must use hand sanitizer, be sure to use the proper amount (the size of a dime) and make sure your little one doesn’t put his hands in his mouth afterward (which means hand sanitizer is never a good idea for babies or toddlers).
The Verdict: Skip altogether, if possible.
What to try: BabyGanics The Germinator Alcohol Free Foaming Hand Sanitizer or Germ-X GermBlaster.