Healthwashing isn’t just something you have to worry about when it comes to food. Companies are pulling out the big guns when it comes to personal care products, too. As consumers, we’re demanding it. Given that “natural” body care is the one segment in cosmetics with continued substantial market share growth, the big guys want to cash in on the influx of consumer consciousness.
Even conventional baby care products, like shampoo, baby wash and baby lotion, have started showing up with claims like “all natural” and “plant-derived” on the label. This kind of makes me wonder how they define plant — the kind that grows in the ground, or the kind that produce things (a.k.a. a factory).
Ultimately, the question comes down to this: What’s actually lurking in those mile-long ingredients lists? The following are ingredients commonly found in your commercial brands of “all-natural” baby care products, and can even be found in products at your health food store.
1. Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil
Whether we eat them or rub them into our skin, all oils should be organic or, at the very least, certified non-GMO. That’s because toxins like to hang out in fat cells in both plants and humans. This means oils have a higher concentration of toxins within them, and our skin absorbs what we put on it.
Hydrogenated cottonseed oil is a skin-conditioning agent that, according to the Environmental Working Group, may be contaminated with mercury, arsenic, lead and pesticides. It’s also one of the cheapest oils out there, given that cottonseed isn’t a food crop. If you wouldn’t eat it, why would you rub it on your precious baby’s skin (or your own, for that matter?)
2. Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate
Sodium stearoyl lactylate (say that three times fast) is an emulsifier produced from vegetable oils such as GMO, conventionally grown soybean oil and palm oil. It’s also a suspected eco-toxin and a skin irritant.
3. Benzoic Acid
While some ingredients may be tested and declared safe according to industry standards, they may not be appropriate for babies. Benzoic acid is a preservative that comes from berries, apples and other natural sources. However, there have been some concerning studies suggesting that it’s related to skin irritation and reduction in organ weight. Benzoic acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) have been known to combine under certain circumstances to create benzene, which is carcinogenic.
4. Cetearyl Alcohol
According to its Material Safety Data Sheet, cetearyl alcohol is “slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant, permeator), or eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, [and] of inhalation.” Not the most fabulous ingredient to put in baby lotion, is it?
Parfum is another word for fragrance (read: chemical cocktail). Most companies don’t reveal the origins of their proprietary fragrances, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what specific risks they pose. But according to the Environmental Working Group, “fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system.” So why include perfume in baby care products? Most likely, it’s to cover up the smell of the hydrogenated oils and other ingredients.