​The Absolute Worst Baby Products For The Planet—And Your Baby

Stay away from these!

January 18, 2018
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​ Baby Products That Are Bad For The Planet And Environment
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Even if you’ve never so much as read a product label before welcoming a baby into your home, becoming a parent will make you newly vigilant. There’s something about caring for a creature that can’t even hold up its own head without help that inspires you to think about what’s in your products, food, and environment.

When you start paying attention, you very quickly realize that parents have to be their own advocates: the FDA doesn’t regulate “products intended to cleanse or beautify,” and while some products, like sunscreens, are also classified as drugs and subject to FDA approval, others, like moisturizers, are not. Even labels can be misleading: the terms “green” or “natural” are not regulated by the FDA. Further, not all natural products are safe, and not all lab-sourced ones dangerous.

Add in a desire not only to minimize your child’s exposure to certain chemicals, but to safeguard the environment, and the process becomes even more complicated. An expecting first-time mother myself, I’ve spent many hours poring over the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, looking for safe baby shampoos and butt pastes…but probably an equal amount of time adding what may turn out to be useless, landfill-clogging baby equipment to our registry.

Related: 14 Moms Share The All-Natural Baby Products They Couldn't Live Without

Realistically, most of us are not going to be able to make the “best choice” each and every time. But the good news is that it’s possible to make better choices, both for the earth and for your newest family member. It’s about minimizing exposure, not achieving perfection.

To get some insight into the worst baby products for the planet—plus some commonsense substitutes—I spoke with Margot White, health educator, green beauty advocate, and founder of The Choosy Chick, an online boutique that sells non-toxic personal care products.

“Today, there are too many choices,” White says. If you too find yourself bewildered by your choices, these guidelines can help.

​ Baby Products That Are Bad For The Planet And Environment
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Avoid These 5 Ingredients In Baby Skin Care Products

Skin care products are some of the worst offenders. “A long time ago, they used to think that the skin was a barrier,” White says. “But it’s not. Just think about the nicotine patch and the estrogen patches and how they are used to literally get into the blood stream in some cases faster than if you injected something.”

When you start looking into the ingredients in product your family uses, “it’s eye-opening,” White says.

1. Synthetic Fragrances

Synthetic fragrances, sometimes listed as “parfum” on labels, can be composed of over a hundred different chemicals. These can include phthalates, which are used to make fragrances stronger and longer-lasting – and are also endocrine disrupters. Fragrances can also emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can create air pollutants. One study found that even products labeled “green” or “natural,” were likely to emit VOCs. “Once you start to avoid synthetic fragrance, you’ll find it hard to walk down the detergent aisle without getting a headache,” White says.

2. BHA/BHT

Short for butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene, these substances are used as preservatives in food, makeup, and moisturizers. They’re generally recognized as safe by the FDA, but the Environmental Working Group notes that BHA is classified as an endocrine disruptor in the UK, and BHT has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats.

3. Oxybenzone

In the olden days, if you wanted to protect yourself from the sun’s rays, you slathered on the zinc oxide. Zinc, which is still in use today, is what’s known as a physical block. Chemical blocks were invented as an alternative. They feel lighter and absorb faster into the skin. And that’s the problem. Oxybenzone, a common component of chemical-block sunscreens, has been identified as a potential endocrine disruptor. The CDC has detected Oxybenzone in at least 96% of Americans. The American Academy of Dermatology, on the other hand, says that Oxybenzone is safe.

But even if that’s the case, there’s another reason to avoid it: Oxybenzone is bleaching coral reefs. At least 80% of the coral reefs have been lost. In response, many Caribbean resorts are asking tourists only to bring reef-safe sunscreen. Want to err on the side of caution, for your endocrine system and for the coral reefs? White advises going with a physical block like zinc oxide. For babies under six months old, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises using sunscreen sparingly on small areas only and blocking the sun with hats, lightweight, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts.

Related: The 5 Best Sunscreens For Kids And Babies

4. Parabens

More endocrine disruptors: parabens, which you can find on product labels as methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben, interfere with hormone signaling.

5. Phenoxyethanol

Used as a preservative in personal care products, phenoxyethanol is listed by the EWG as a moderate hazard. White notes that a few years ago, the FDA reported that use of the chemical in a nipple cream was causing respiratory and intestinal distress in babies. The company has since pulled the product.

Related: 7 Old-School Parenting Tips That Seem Crazy In The Modern Age

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Avoid These 6 Baby Products

There's a lot of baby products that are best avoided—these six top the list.

Plastic Baby Toys

Phthalates, which made White’s list of worst skin care ingredients, are also found in flexible plastics—i.e. the stuff that many of our modern baby toys are manufactured from. “I would highly recommend completely minimizing plastic toys,” White says. “Especially for babies, because they put everything in their mouths.” BPA-free plastics aren’t necessarily the answer, White says, because some of the BPA substitutes are just as bad in terms of having hormone-disrupting properties.

Related: 20 Things You Really Don't Need To Buy For A New Baby

Plastic Baby Bottles and Cups

For the same reason, White advises parents to avoid plastic baby bottles. “Go with glass, if you can,” she says. “It’s the safest.” When kids get older, she recommends glass or stainless steel for baby cups, instead of plastic.

Single-Use Plastics

White also advises skipping single-use plastics, such as drinking straws and bottle drop-ins, to minimize plastics collecting in our waterways. (Her site even offers a compostable toothbrush made out of non-GMO corn starch.)

Related: 5 Good Reasons To Massage Your Baby—And How To Do It Safely

Diapers

Diapers are a more complicated issue than just “use cloth,” due to the pesticides used during cotton production (as well as the labor issues in the industry, White points out). Plus, there’s the impact of washing diapers and the detergents used to wash them.

“If you’re going to go with a disposable, then look for ones that are not bleached, and no fragrance obviously—a lot of them put fragrance in the diapers, so the diapers themselves can become really irritating,” White says. She also recommends looking for diapers that don’t have dyes. Again: labels are your friends. Avoiding dyes can be tricky, because some “green” brands use brown dye to make their products look more natural. (Here are our favorite eco-friendly diapers.)

If you’re going to go with cloth, White advises looking for diapers made with organic cotton.

Related: 8 Things I Learned From Using Cloth Diapers

Wipes

The problem with baby wipes, she says, is that they’re made out of plastic fibers and are collecting in sewers and eventually making their way to the ocean.

“From a skincare standpoint, they are incredibly harsh on baby’s skin,” she says. “I would recommend not using wipes at all.” Instead, White recommends using organic cotton wash clothes and calendula oil as a substitute. Not feeling the wash cloth substitution? White recommends buying organic cotton balls or rounds (available at most grocery stores) and using those. Sure, they’re disposable, but at least you’ll avoid the plastics issue. For diaper cream, plain old zinc works, she says.

Related: 9 Natural Remedies To Help New Moms (Hello, Sore Nipples!)

Baby Powder

When most of us were kids, baby powder was an essential part of every parent’s diapering toolkit. Since then, talc—the essential ingredient in baby powder—has been linked to cancer. White recommends skipping baby powder altogether. “There’s no need for powder,” she says.

Related: 5 Amazing High-Tech Bassinets That Will Put Your Baby Right To Sleep

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We hope you enjoy the products we're recommending as much as we do! Just so you know, Organic Life may get a share of sales from the links on this page.
 
​ Baby Products That Are Bad For The Planet And Environment
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Additional Guidelines

“If you can get an organic alternative, get it,” White advises. For example, it’s possible to get organic baby mattresses now instead of plastic ones, or to opt for organic bamboo for wash cloths and baby clothes.

And, at the end of the day, the best thing you can do for the environment (and your sanity) may be to buy less stuff. “I also say minimize,” White says. “They don’t need all these toys. I go to some parents’ houses and there’s plastic from wall to wall....[Plus], they get bored of it. They play with it for a week and then they’re done.”