Recently, I heard an acquaintance discussing the baby bath choices of another mother.
“She did not use the baby shampoo that I got her because it is not organic,” she muttered with disgusted emphasis on the word “organic”.
Being a cognizant user of natural products, I was a bit surprised at the ferocity at which this ordinarily very reasonable woman spoke about this issue. One can easily see the benefits of organic food—less chemicals, genetically modified food, unnecessary growth hormones—but the use of organic and/or natural bath and beauty products has become a back burner issue for many people. Interestingly to me, the products that were the center of this discussion were not in fact “organic”, but were considered “natural”.
Currently, there is no real regulation on the organic/natural product industry. “Organic” products need to have 70% organic material, according to the US government. However, there is no accountability to hold manufacturers to this standard. The use of the term “natural” and similar verbiage (“100% natural”, “inspired by nature”, etc) are all advertising gimmicks. It is up to the consumer to read the ingredients and have an idea of what the ingredients are. The Natural Products Association is a leader that sets standards for the definition of “true” natural products, but it is also not appropriately regulated. The Natural Product Association mandates that products that use their seal must meet their guidelines under the following categories: natural, safety, responsibility and sustainability. However, consumers must take responsibility for knowing what is in the products they buy.
Two big headliners of the health-conscience right now are sulfates and parabens. Sulfates and parabens both contain hormone-disturbing characteristics. Bottom line: Both are known cancer causers. Parabens act similarly to estrogen and have caused in increase in breast cancer in clinical trials with mice. Sulfates in conjunction with other ingredients in soaps create nitrates, which is a known carcinogen. While sulfates and parabens receive a majority of the attention, baby bath products can also contain formaldehyde, phthalates, etc. Scarily, some of these harmful ingredients will not be mentioned in the ingredient list, but reside under a harmless-sounding “fragrance” or “preservative” category. (Probably a good sales move—Most people probably would not buy a product with “formaldehyde” in the list!)
Aside from the potential health risks of non-natural products, there are some practical reasons for organic/natural products. There is less of a risk of allergic reaction from a natural, plant-based product in comparison to a chemical. A chemical-based product also has the risk of stripping skin of its natural oils, thus causing the need for more products! After all, the skin is the largest organ in the body. What is put on the skin WILL, end up in the bloodstream, even though the amounts may be small.
While there are countless people who do not adhere to this philosophy and live long, healthy lives, the potential risks of some of the ingredients in these products cannot be ignored. While I do not believe in living in fear, I do believe education is the key to improving the future for my child. Our babies deserve better than we had.