Have you ever heard the saying, "A worried mother does better research than the FBI"?
Unfortunately, parents almost have to be professional sleuths to figure out which products are safe for their children. Scant regulation of chemicals, confusing labeling, and rampant greenwashing can make the simple act of going shopping for a family feel like navigating a minefield. And when our children's health is at stake, a misstep is not an option.
Young kids are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals since their immune, neurological, endocrine, and entire bodily systems are still developing. Studies show that even small exposures during critical windows can lead to breast cancer, infertility, learning disabilities, and other serious health problems later in life.
The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to reduce your children's exposure to toxins. Start by avoiding these four common chemicals:
1. Flame Retardants
What it's in: bedding, car seats, and foam baby products like nursing pillows and nap mats.
Why it's a problem: Studies show that flame retardants appear immediately in the bloodstream and urine and can lead to long-term effects like endocrine disruption, lower IQ, ADD, fertility issues, and cancer. What's worse, studies show that these chemicals aren't necessary as they can't prevent fires.
How to avoid it: Switch to 100 percent cotton or wool bedding, or place an organic cotton or wool topper on top of a regular mattress to minimize exposure. Avoid foam baby products where possible.
What it's in: fragrance in cleaning and personal care products, and plastics.
Why it's a problem: Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are linked to reproductive malformations in baby boys, reduced fertility, developmental disorders, asthma, and increased allergic reactions. They've also been identified by Project TENDR (Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks) as "a prime example of chemicals of emerging concern to brain development."
How to avoid it: Go for fragrance-free cleaners and personal care products. Look for baby bottles with nipples made from hospital-grade silicon, and skip plastic food containers where possible.
3. High-Risk Pesticides
What it's in: bug repellent, disinfectant cleaners, and hand soaps, and residues in non-organic produce.
Why it's a problem: Cancer rates in children are up 25 percent since 1975, and the increase has been partially attributed to the use of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. The American Academy of Pediatrics points to pesticide residue in food as the most critical route of exposure, which luckily, is one we have some control over.
How to avoid it: Buy organic food where possible, and refer to resources like the Pesticide Action Network to find foods grown with fewer pesticides. Reduce use of disinfectant cleaners and hand soaps for everyday use.
4. Formaldehyde and Formaldehyde Releasers
What it's in: baby personal care products like shampoo and liquid soaps.
Why it's a problem: Formaldehyde is linked to cancer and considered a known human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Formaldehyde can be added directly to personal care products, or it can be released over time in small amounts from certain preservatives in the product.
How to avoid it: Read ingredient lists to avoid formaldehyde, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, polyoxymethylene urea, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol), and glyoxal.
A new way to recognize toxins
The Made With Safe Ingredients label is the first nontoxic certification in the country that ensures the products we use every day are made with ingredients not known to harm human health or the environment. Founded by a mom on a mission to protect her children, it aims to change the way products are made, ultimately eliminating toxic chemicals altogether.
Here are a few MADE SAFE–certified products that are free of the harmful chemicals I've touched upon.
Look for MADE SAFE–certified bedding and mattresses from Naturepedic and crib mattresses from Lullaby Earth.
Bottles and personal care products
Repellents and soaps