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Shopping Tips for Baby Care

The issues

Identifying safe baby products can be a challenge, especially when there are so many products out there to choose from: clothing, diapers, bottles, shampoo, soap, baby wipes, toys. Here are some of the issues to consider when you’re planning on buying baby care products:

Toxic baby products — Surprisingly, many baby products are formulated with potentially hazardous chemicals. The key to determining whether a product poses a health risk is evaluating whether use of a product results in high or repeat exposures to chemicals of concern. Diapers, for example, do not represent a significant source of exposure to toxics, while products like baby bottles can be if they continuously leach ingredients into a baby’s daily feedings. Intermittently applied products like soaps or shampoos are unlikely sources of high exposure, compared with continuously emitting products like diaper pail deodorants, which can result in significant indoor air pollution.

Babies are especially vulnerable to exposures to hazardous chemicals — Given their size and the immaturity of their bodies, babies face a greater health risk from exposure to chemicals than adults. Infants breathe more air and have more skin surface per pound of body weight than adults. Because major organ systems are still developing after birth, babies do not have fully functioning metabolic systems for getting rid of toxins as efficiently as adults and can be particularly susceptible to endocrine, immune or nervous system insults. As a result, the same amount of a toxin can have a larger impact on babies than adults.

Taking precautions to avoid unnecessary exposures — Given the variety of chemical ingredients in baby products, consumers are rightly concerned about how little is known about how these chemical mixtures can affect growing infants and how lax regulatory controls are over baby products. The case for precaution is the strongest with baby products, as no mother wants to treat their baby like a guinea pig and expose them to inadequately tested chemicals.

As is the case with all consumer goods, it’s important to keep product packaging in mind. Baby care products often come in smaller packages or individually-wrapped, forcing a trade-off between convenience and the environment.

What to look for

Products that do not contain ingredients of high or medium concern, as identified by GoodGuide. Check out the list below for more details.

Products that do not contain controversial ingredients. GoodGuide provides a filter to select fragrance-free products. Often found in baby wipes and hygiene products, fragrance is a catch—all term on ingredient lists that can conceal chemicals tied to allergies, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity. Look for products from companies that state their products do not contain phthalates or parabens. These compound classes contain specific chemicals that have been linked to health concerns like cancer and developmental problems. Since manufacturers in many baby product categories aren’t required to disclose what their products contain, company marketing claims are often the only information a consumer has to make these selections.

Opt for products that use minimal packaging, or at the very least, recyclable packaging.

GoodGuide Recommendations

To choose a safe baby care product, try to minimize your baby’s exposure to chemicals. It’s impossible to be perfect, so focus your effort on avoiding products that can result in short-term high exposure or chronic long-term exposure to potentially hazardous. Use GoodGuide to help evaluate whether the ingredients listed on a product’s packaging are of health concern and worth worrying about.

Unfortunately, you cannot currently rely on the phrase “natural baby product” to identify safe baby products — it’s not a regulated claim, so it can be applied to virtually any product. This situation is slowly improving with the emergence of trade standards for use of the term “natural” or “organic,” but consumers still do not have access to any widespread third-party certification of baby product claims.

Use GoodGuide’s Not Tested on Animals filter if you want to ensure your product choice does not harm animal welfare.

Use GoodGuide’s Fragrance-Free filter if you want to avoid potentially hazardous ingredients (like phthalates) that are a common component of fragrances.

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