Shopping for a baby can be overwhelming on its own, add navigating through the products to find the truly natural and safe brands, and you are officially in a minefield. Luckily, I’ve been through this with my children over the past decade and am here to guide you with what to look for when buying products. I briefly brushed on this topic in my first blog article 'Natural and Inspiring Products for your Little One', but in this article, I will shed light on the labels to look for and the chemicals to avoid.
What makes a product ‘natural’?
We naturally feel more inclined to pick up a product at the store that has the label ‘natural’, ‘green’, or ‘eco-friendly’ label on it. Although these words can mean the product is generally recognized as safe, the words are not regulated as to how they are used. What does that mean? It means that the ‘natural’ claims don’t guarantee that the product is free from ingredients that may cause allergies or other negative health effects. Companies don’t have to pass any tests to label their products as ‘natural’. The only word that is regulated is 'organic'. So, if you’re a genuinely concerned parent like me, then you need to look for the labels and understand what they mean.
Look for these labels
Products need to meet certain standards for health, safety, and toxicity to obtain these certifications. So, rest assured, if the label is there then you can trust it to be a natural and safe product.
This is an organic certification and inspection body established in 1991 in France. It conducts inspections in over 80 countries, making it one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world, specializing in organic agricultural products. Ecocert is the first certification body to develop standards for natural and organic cosmetics, becoming a global-level benchmark. The organization encourages the use of ingredients sourced from renewable resources and focuses on environmentally friendly production processes. Ecocert checks for the absence of GMOs, Parabens, Phenoxyethanol, Nanoparticles, Silicon, PEG, Synthetic perfumes and dyes, and animal-derived ingredients (unless naturally produced by them: milk, honey, etc.).
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
This is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.
A textile product with the GOTS label must contain a minimum of 70% certified organic fibers. A product with the label grade ‘organic’ must contain a minimum of 95% certified organic fibers.
Organic fibers are defined as natural fibers that are grown according to the principles of organic agriculture and without the use of herbicides, insecticides, synthetic pesticides, or GMOs (Genetic Modified Organisms).
Products earning a GOTS designation also must meet the environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing processes criteria.
Made Safe (Made with Safe Ingredients™)
A Nontoxic Certified program whose seal means that a product is made with safe ingredients and without toxic chemicals known to harm human health. Made Safe screens products for behavioral toxins, carcinogens, developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, fire retardants, heavy metals, neurotoxins, high-risk pesticides, reproductive toxins, toxic solvents, and harmful VOCs.
This is one of the world's best-known labels for textiles and leather tested for harmful substances. The standard 100 label guarantees that every thread, button, and accessory has been tested for harmful substances, making them harmless for human health.
Not all of the natural products have certification, so it's a good idea to get to know the harmful chemicals that you can look out for when shopping for natural and safe products for your children.
Harmful Chemicals to Avoid in Baby Products
BPA stands for Bisphenol A, which is an industrial chemical used to produce reusable plastic products. It is now one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world. BPA exposure has been linked to illnesses and conditions like cancer, infertility, hormone disruption, and recent studies show BPA is more harmful to developing fetuses and children. BPA is often found in water bottles, sippy cups, and food containers.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. Have you ever noticed that your plastic products have hardened over time? This is because the phthalates have leached out of it. Children are more vulnerable to phthalates exposure due to their hand-to-mouth behavior, so they end up ingesting phthalates. Exposure to phthalates is linked to asthma, allergies, bronchial obstruction, and other health issues.Flame Retardants
Flame retardants are also a group of chemicals used in products to make them less flammable. These are linked to allergies, asthma, birth defects, and cancer. Mounting evidence suggests they interfere with hormones and reproductive systems, stunting child development. Flame retardants can be found in cribs, mattresses, changing pads, nursing pillows, car seats, and strollers. They are pretty much everywhere.
Parabens are a group of related chemicals used to preserve materials as well as prevent bacteria and mold growth, basically to give the product longer shelf life. These are also linked to hormone disruption, in babies and children developmental disorders, learning problems, and reproductive disorders. Parabens are most commonly found in personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, and cream. A baby's skin is thinner so the chances of absorbing the parabens are higher which can lead to skin irritation.
PFOA and PFOAS
PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) and PFOAS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonate are man-made industrial chemicals. Studies link these chemicals to reproductive and developmental issues, along with liver, kidney, and immunological effects. These chemicals are used to resist heat, water, and oil to make them waterproof, stain-resistant, or wrinkle-free.
Triclosan is a chemical ingredient used as an antibacterial and antifungal agent in common household products. Triclosan has been shown to mildly disrupt hormones and develop resistance to antibiotics. Triclosan is an ingredient found in bedding, shampoos, soaps, socks, toothpaste, and toys.
Other Substances to Avoid in Baby Products
There are other substances you should also avoid in baby and children’s products.
Heavy metals like arsenic, boron, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, zinc, and others are exposed to children through products like art supplies, jewelry, and face paints.
Another such substance is pesticides which are used to destroy insects and other pests that attack crops. Pesticides are linked to many conditions and diseases like asthma, Alzheimer's, ADHD, and cancer. and volatile organic compounds.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are a group of chemicals that are found in indoor air through off-gassing by new or household products. They are known to cause cancer, mutations, and other undesirable health effects. VOCs can come from a surprising number of sources like children’s furniture, clothes, plastic food storage, toys, carpets, personal care products, and paint.
After reading all this you may be thinking is there anything safe for your baby? While certain chemicals cannot be avoided and may have to be used to make a product better, it’s a good idea to use everything in moderation. Here are some tips that I followed to give my children a healthy and safe lifestyle:
- Opt for organic bedding or made using natural fibers like cotton or wool.
- Use a non-toxic mattress.
- Avoid scented products.
- Use scent-free laundry detergent.
Food and Storage
- Get bibs made of natural materials like cotton.
- Avoid PVC for products that go in the mouth like pacifiers and teethers.
- Opt for plastic-free tableware for hot food, bamboo, and stainless steel are good alternatives.
- Use glass milk bottles and later switch to stainless steel or if you must choose plastic then ensure they are free of all the chemicals
- Opt for toys made of natural materials like wood, cotton, hemp, and wool.
- If you buy plastic toys, then go for polypropylene or polyethylene. A fantastic new alternative is polylactides (PLA) which is a corn-based plastic. All of these are free from chemical leaching and biodegradable.
- Get art supplies that are free from harmful toxins like beeswax crayons or finger paints that are plant-based.
All of the information can be overwhelming and scary, trust me, I know the feeling. At this point, you might be thinking, "What should I do?" I started by getting rid of all the plastic in the house that wasn’t safe, first went all the plastic toys and then the tableware. After that, I just started looking at the certifications of brands and switched over to brands that were reliable and trustworthy. If brands didn’t have certifications, then I would check the labels of all the products I’d buy for my kids to make sure the chemicals mentioned above weren’t in the products. While this is a painstaking process in the beginning once you know what you are looking for it becomes as simple as a grocery list checklist and it’s well worth it in the end.
Having gone through the process, part of my aim when starting The Crib was to make it easier for parents to shop for natural products. We are truly invested in providing our customers with the widest collection of natural brands. For this reason, our product details have a dedicated 'Natural Features' section that describes how the product is natural. Then it is your decision whether the product is natural enough to buy for your baby.
We want to help you keep your children safe and while this may seem challenging, a few simple steps can keep your children safe and healthy.