Nappies and chemicals in baby-products

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I have attempted to research into the tricky area of chemicals used in our everyday products. As many of you know I have been fairly vocal about how irresponsible some of the bigger brand name companies are in continuing to use chemicals in their products. The difficulty I have come up against is that there are plenty of environmentally responsible websites out there who make the subject very sensational, and I feel that most of us suffer a great deal of eco-guilt, particularly when it comes to our babies. So, I wanted to find specific information and give you some alternative choices.

An interesting website to check out the toxic level of specific products is the Cosmetics Database, set up by the Environmental Working Group, http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ For example, Pampers Sensitive Wipes, and Huggies Unscented Wipes both score a 4 out of 10, representing a moderate hazard. However, Tushies wipes score a 1 out of 10.

There is an excellent article on the Babyworld website, www.babyworld.co.uk/information/baby/kids_and_chemicals. It talks about some of the common chemicals found in our baby products and their impact. Key ingredients to look out for are:

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)
Research has shown that SLS and SLES (Sodium Laureth Sulphate) may cause potentially carcinogenic nitrates and dioxins to form in the bottles of shampoos and cleansers by reacting with commonly used ingredients found in many products. Large amounts of nitrates may enter the blood system from just one shampooing. They can cause eye irritations, skin rashes, hair loss, scalp scurf similar to dandruff and allergic reactions. Industrial uses of SLS include engine degreasers and car wash soaps.

Propylene Glycol Stearate
This chemical alters skin structure, allowing other chemicals to penetrate deeper into the skin, increasing the amounts of other chemicals that reach the bloodstream. It has been linked with skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis. Industrially, it is also found in antifreeze.

Methylparaben and Propylparaben
The health concern regarding these chemicals suggest that they may alter hormone levels, possibly increasing risks for certain types of cancer, impaired fertility, or alteration of the development of a fetus or young child.

Artificial fragrances/Perfumes
Two leading causes of allergy and irritation.

“According to the Cosmetics Ingredients Review 2003, 100 per cent of the baby lotions studied contained ingredients which had insufficient research backing their safety and 59 per cent of products contained ingredients that were allergens.

Charlotte Vohtz, founder of Green People, a mail order company manufacturing chemical-free toiletries, suggests that the danger occurs when these chemicals are mixed in products. She says “The problem is the synergy – that is the key issue. Some are inhaled, some are in food, some are absorbed by the skin. We are being bombarded by chemicals and babies are the most vulnerable to their effects.”

Research undertaken in 1999 suggests that chemicals released by disposable nappies could cause or aggravate asthma. Nappies were tested as soon as they were taken from the packet for their level of emissions, which were high enough to produce asthma like symptoms. The chemicals released were Tolune, xylene, ethylbenzene, styrene and isopropylbenzene amongst others. These chemicals are by products of the manufacturing process of disposable nappies that contain gel.”

Disposable nappies are made up of super-absorbent chemicals, paper pulps and plastics. There has been suggestion that disposable nappies are linked to increasing infertility, especially in boys. Apart from the concerns about chemical content and their affect on physiology, it is thought that the plastics used in most conventional disposables keeps the genitals at a body temperature 5 degrees higher than recommended. So, what to do?

At the Baby Show, ExCel I spoke to a number of different companies. One I was particularly impressed by was Cheeky Wipes, set up by a Mum of three. She has devised a system of washable wipes, plastic tubs, travel packs etc – all seemed very easy to use and far cheaper in the long term than endless plastic packs of disposable wipes. Go to www.cheekywipes.com for more info and let me know how you get on!

I was also bowled over by the massive variety of washable nappies on the market, and so much easier to use than those I tried only four years ago with Emily. With the introduction of fabrics like bamboo, which are ultra absorbent, the nappies seem slimmer and easier to use than ever. So, some websites to go to:

  • www.cleangreennappy.co.uk/
  • www.realnappycampaign.com
  • www.usednappies.co.uk
  • www.realnappiesforlondon.org.uk

Finally, if you really can’t cope with the idea of using washables, then there are many more environmentally-friendly disposable options on the market. Many of you use the Nature Baby nappies, sold in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. Personally I found them a bit hard and unwielding, and preferred Bambo disposables. Spirit of Nature has the lowest UK price for Bambo and Moltex, especially if you go for one of their bulk buy options (club together with friends to take advantage perhaps?) Go to www.spiritofnature.co.uk