Are Your Child’s Bath Products Safe?

Your baby’s first bath is a magical experience.  From that moment on, bath time becomes a soothing ritual of gently washing your child while you spend precious moments bonding with your infant.  Even as your child grows, tub time often turns into a laugh-filled experience, complete with piles of bubbles and enticing scents to encourage your little one to spend enough time in the water to actually get clean.  But are the products you put in that bath water doing more harm than good?

Studies have found that the products you use to wash your children can have frightening effects on their overall health.  Major companies including Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, L’Oreal USA, Unilever, and Bath & Body Works have all been found to produce products containing preservatives, which over time, break down to form formaldehyde.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers formaldehyde to be a “probable carcinogen.”  While not added intentionally, this by-product of preservatives can cause extreme sensitivity in the nasal and respiratory tracts.  In addition, chemicals known as phthalates, found in many bath and body products, can interfere with your child’s hormone system!

A group known as The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released a study in which they found that the majority of the children’s bath products they tested contained formaldehyde.

As reported originally in USA Today:

Thirty-two of 48 products contained 1,4-dioxane, also considered a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, is a byproduct of a chemical processing techniques used to make petroleum-based ingredients gentler to the skin. Nearly two-thirds of products tested, including Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, contained both chemicals, according to the campaign, a coalition of environmental and health groups that includes the Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Working Group.

Formaldehyde can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people, the report says, and Japan and Sweden have banned formaldehyde from personal care products.

Manufacturers have known for years that bubble bath, shampoo and other products contain small amounts of formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane, and have already reduced these levels significantly, says John Bailey, the council’s chief scientist.

Bailey says that preservatives make products safer by preventing the growth of bacteria, fungus and other potentially harmful microbes. There’s no reason to take “extraordinary measures” to further reduce levels of these chemicals, he says, because there’s no evidence to prove that low levels pose a risk.

“Cosmetic and personal care product companies take their commitment to safety and their responsibilities under the law very seriously and work hard to earn and keep the trust of consumers and their families,” Bailey said in a statement. “Parents should be given complete and accurate information about their products based on sound science rather than on incomplete and alarmist reports.”

Other scientists say the report raises important safety concerns.

Sheela Sathyanarayana, an environmental health pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor at the University of Washington, says she’s seen kids become “extremely sensitized” from formaldehyde exposures. These children develop bigger and bigger reactions with each new exposure. That can make skin sensitive to a variety of substances, beyond just formaldehyde, she says.

Although Sathyanarayana was not involved in the new report, her research has shown that many other baby products contain chemicals called phthalates, which can interfere with the hormone system.

She notes that formaldehyde also irritates the nasal and respiratory passages.

Parents are charged with making many decisions which affect the health and safety of their children.  The choice of a bath product may seem innocuous enough.  However, when chemicals already considered “probable carcinogens” are still allowed to seep into the developing systems of our children, even your choice of bath product can have lasting effects on their health over time.  Research the “clean” options to clean your child and have the peace of mind that you are not taking any unnecessary potential chemical safety risks.

SOURCE:  Szabo, Liz.  (2009, March 3).  “Group finds carcinogens in kids bath products.”  Retrieved from