Suave Kids #WashThemGrow Twitter Party Illustrates Ingredients Are Not Mild Or Gentle

So what is really in all those bath and beauty products intended for our kids? It is hard to tell. Deciphering the ingredients is frustrating, especially when you are in a hurry to get your shopping done. And you can’t rely on labels – those terms like natural, naturally derived, hypoallergenic and more have no regulatory meaning. Plus, the US Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) – the federal agency tasked with jurisdiction over the safety of cosmetics – does NOT review cosmetic products for safety before they are placed on store shelves. In fact, most of the ingredients have never been studied for safety. An analysis by the Environmental Working Group found just 13% of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care product have been reviewed for safety by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel – and the CIR panel really doesn’t concern itself with carcinogens and developmental toxicants. It is more concerned with skin reactions and skin irritation.

What does that mean? It is left to us to figure out what we want to use and whether we believe the products are safe for our kids. You may use the EWG’s Cosmetic Safety Database Skin Deep to check out ingredients. Or you may rely on recommendations from other moms. But recommendations may not be the best gauge of a product’s safety – what you think is okay may not be okay to the next mom and vice versa.

I think that issue – what is okay with one is not okay with another mom – came up during a Twitter last week, the #washthemgrow Twitter party. During the party, questions were raised regarding one ingredient – methylisothiazolinone. Jessica Gottlieb tweeted that is was banned in Canada, yet Suave Kids products included it. Methylisothiazolinone is an antimicrobial agent used in shampoos and other bath products in the US. Animal studies have linked exposure to methylisothiazolinone (“MIT”) to stunted development. In other words, chronic exposure to MIT may negatively impact neurodevelopment. Its use is restricted in cosmetics in Canada, although not completely banned. So some moms try to avoid it, while other moms may think it is okay.

The party hosts didn’t seem prepared to respond to questions on ingredients. (And I think that is a lesson learned for all Twitter parties – you must know your subject well. And be prepared for all issues. Can anybody say Nestle fiasco??) With respect to the concerns expressed over the ingredient methylisothiazolinone, Maria Bailey posted Suave’s response on her blog after the party had concluded.

But to be honest, MIT is only one problemmatic ingredient in the Suave Kids products. The Suave Kids Body Wash (the focus of the Suave Kids Wash Them Grow campaign) is supposed to make “bath time a more fun experience with [Suave’s] gentle and tear-free formulas . . . ” But the body wash is far from gentle. And I have to say I get a little annoyed at the sheer number of primarily mom blogs simply repeating the Suave media kit information. The blog posts almost universally say that the Suave Kids products are safe, gentle and non irritating. But none of them talk about WHAT IS IN THE BLOODY STUFF, including all the ingredients that are known irritants and/or allergens. Or that many of the products have high scores in the Skin Deep database.

Okay, I get it – people want to win the prizes being offered in the Wash Them Grow Campaign. They are great prizes. Plus, the campaign encourages bloggers to post about the product because the one that drives to most traffic to the sweepstakes will win a year’s supply of the product plus a $100 gift certificate to Build-a-Bear and can give the same prize to 10 of her readers.

But you would think that it would be responsible to at least vet the company claims before repeating them. Or at least read the ingredients. For example, this post suggests that the Free and Gentle body wash is free of perfumes and dyes. Yeah, right. The Free and Gentle body wash contains fragrance. Just look at the last ingredient.

And I fully understand that my issues on what is in the products we use may not concern other people. And I fully understand that there are a lot of more significant issues in the world. Just in the field of children’s environmental health, radon and lead in paint are much more significant issues.

Nevertheless, let’s look at what is in the Suave Kids Free and Gentle Body Wash. The claim: “clinically proven to be mild. The lightly fragranced formula is hypoallergenic so you don’t have to worry about irritating your child’s skin.”

The ingredients:

Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Sodium Chloride, Polyquaternium-10, PEG-150 Distearate, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Etidronic Acid, DMDM Hydantoin, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance

So, the second ingredient, sodium laureth sulfate, is an ethoxylated compound. What that means is basically ethylene oxide is added to sodium lauryl sulfate to make it sodium laureth sulfate (“SLES”). The carcinogen 1,4 dioxane is a by-product of the ethoxylation process, and ends up in the body wash as a contaminant, so it doesn’t appear on the ingredient list. If you want to learn more about carinogens in kid shampoos and body washes, read my post on the Toxic Tub report. SLES can also cause eye and skin irritation, which makes the claim that this product is mild odd, and it is inconsistent with the “hypoallergenic” claim as well.

The third ingredient, cocamidopropyl betaine can cause allergic reactions. Cocamidopropyl betaine can also be contaminated with nitrosamines. The fourth ingredient, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, may cause immune system toxicity. 

Other ingredients are also of concern. Polyquaternium-10 is a formaldehyde donor, and may result in the release of the carcinogen formaldehyde. PEG-150 Distearate is ethoxylated, meaning that the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane may be present. Tetrasodium EDTA is a salt of EDTA. EDTA is synethesized from ehtylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. EDTA is a peristent organic pollutant. Tetrasodium EDTA is linked to cancer and organ system toxicity. Of concern in cosmetic formulations is that Tetrasodium EDTA enhances the penetration of other ingredients.

DMDM Hydantoin is a human skin toxicant according to a CIR assessment. Also, it is an irritant. Finally, it also is a formaldehyde donor.

Finally, the all inclusive ingredient fragrance. The one that manufacturers don’t have to provide the actual ingredients in the fragrance because of trade secrets. So, we really can’t tell what synthetic chemicals make up the fragrance for this product. But what we can make an educated guess is that the fragrance contains numerous volatile organic compounds and also hormone disrupting phthalates. Phthalates are used to sustain fragrance in beauty products.

Okay so would you recommend this product? I don’t think I would – there are so many better options on the market. However, in the scheme of things, I think wash off products are less of a concern than leave on products such as lotions and diaper cream. So, switch your lotions, diaper cream and any other leave on products first, and then tackle body washes and shampoos. However, if your child takes a bath every night and hangs out in the bath, then you may be more concerned, especially since heat increases volatilization of the volatile ingredients.

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  1. Jennifer,

    I missed this but great recap and I learn so much about ingredients when I read your blog – I just have to remember it all! Thanks for keeping us informed and the answer to your question is, NO! I would not recommend this product.

  2. Red Alert for me – Propylene Glycol. This is one ingredient I look for, and then put the product back on the shelf. Sure they say it’s safe but it can go into food, health care products and even anti-freeze. Propylene Glycol, parabens and sulfates are my top 3 stay-away froms!

    Great post and a big hell no! No Suave products for us so no recommendation for others!

  3. This is a great post Jennifer. I did not participate in the Twitter party that night, but I did see some of it in my tweetdeck feed. I saw the questions posed and the lack of a good response. I admire and respect the women who participated and ran this party, but rather than make comments “from the sidelines,” I remained quiet. Also, I have a lot of fun participating in some parties and love the conversations I get to have with so many new people, but I will not compromise my beliefs to try to win prizes. I simply don’t RSVP for the parties with products I wouldn’t support or buy for my family.

  4. Yep, I’d LOVE to be able to remember all of this info and which ingredients are what when I’m out shopping (at the moment, I’m still working on remembering not to lock my keys in the car). What would be great is some sort of app where you can snap a picture of an item’s bar code, hit send and get a text msg back if that product is indeed ‘natural and gentle’ etc. I think they have a similar app in regard to food and nutritional content.

    Ugh, I’d definitely not buy these Suave products now that you’ve broken down the ingredients for us!

  5. I also admire and respct many of the women who participated in the party. I hope that the post did not suggest that I didn’t! I don’t, however, respect companies that provide what amounts to misleading information. And I do think that all of us should vet products more thoroughly . . .

  6. You bring up some very valid points in knowing what it is we are buying. Too many of us are duped into trusting that label. The other issue is how these brands are using social media to get “free” publicity about their products pulling in moms to “talk about it” in an effort to win. Social media moms are trying to be good marketers and get paid to put on “twitter parties” which begs the question, should they vet the product before taking the job?

    It’s up to each person to buy or not, believe in global warming or not etc…. fortunately, we live in a country where we do have these rights, but when will we start making manufacturers more accountable for what toxins they are using? Right now, if governments are not stepping up with the restrictions we need, then we as mothers, as consumers, and protectors of our children and planet need to know what we are buying before we buy.

    Most of us make a shopping list – but take some time and start under your sink –> make a list of what you are buying already. In a few minutes, on your favorite search engine, you will be enlightened as to the answer about the ingredients you are using and then you can make informed decisions about whether or not you want to switch to something else.

    Oh, and for those of you looking for help in a directory of “safe” products… guess what, there’s an app for that, actually several. Start with the GoodGuide over 50K products listed.

  7. Stephanie – The Good Guide is okay, but not perfect. I’ve got my issues with it too. For example, the Good Guide made the mistake of calling out poor Mr. Squiggles, using the wrong testing. And the Good Guide listed triclosan-containing Q-tips as a top baby product. But it is useful as a starting point.

  8. Great article! Becoming an “ingredient detective” takes time and effort, but becomes second nature once you get into a routine.

  9. Thank you, Jennifer, for this informative and balanced post! I agree with you, too, about the problem of people just forwarding unvetted information just to win some sort of competition! A good reminder for all of us. Still, it’s appalling that parents especially–the ones who are the last line of defense for their children’s welfare–would do so when the info being forwarded could put another child at risk. I appreciate your blog very, very much. It’s one of my recommended blogs to read listed on my website, Keep up the good detective work, and thanks for sharing!

  10. Hey Jennifer~

    I just tried to post on Facebook about your blog post, and you’ve been blocked. I can’t even refer to your website. What’s up with that? Are the manufacturers of Suave products behind it? Is that legal? It sure isn’t ethical.

  11. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Thank you for reaffirming my desire to keep this stuff off my kid’s skin.

  12. GoodGuide does have a shopping ap that you can get, but I still think that even with GoodGuide and EWG – skin deep you need to use some common sense as well.

    I see info on EWG sometimes for relating back to studies done in the 1800s… you also must be aware of the application they are referring to when they are rating ingredients.

    In my mind it’s pretty simple, if the ingredients list is long chemical names and ingredients you do not recognize, it’s not “natural”.

    If you want clean products, read the ingredients lists and look for plants, not long chemical names that make no sense.

  13. Jennifer,

    Thank you for writing a calm, fair, and informative post. As you know, I helped out with the event you mention, and I did so very happily because I not only use Suave products in my own hair, but we have used the Suave Kids shampoos and conditioners since my children were toddlers. They have incredibly sensitive skin – my daughter also has eczema – and we have found that the products not only do a great job of cleaning their crazy abundance of hair, but do not negatively impact their skin. They also make the difficult process of detangling my five year old’s waist-length hair much easier.

    That said, as you know, I am about as far behind the learning curve as I could be when it comes to green living, so I am always happy to hear from those like you who are not only well informed, but are also civil. I will continue to buy and support Suave, but I am very interested in learning more about Methylisothiazolinone and will look for products that do not include that ingredient. I’d love if you could suggest some lines/brands.

    As for the comments that were made during the party, there are some who show up to multiple parties and make personal attacks on people rather than just state facts or ask pertinent questions. Some also have publicly stated their distaste for all Twitter events thus showing their issue is with the medium and not necessarily the product being discussed. I for one will not respond to those people in any way. They do not deserve a response nor do they deserve my time on any level. I do, however, always reach out to clients to find out more when there is something brought to my attention by a reasonable Twitter user. One of the best things about Twitter is the opportunity for personal growth that it offers, so please continue to share your feedback with me. I truly appreciate it.


  14. I didn’t think you came across with a lack of respect for the women at all. I just wanted to share how I felt because I know what night there was a bit of negativity(that seemed directed straight at them), which I didn’t think was fair. I think you post is excellent, opens people’s eyes, and is fairly written! :)

  15. Excellent article as usual! I admit that it is hard to keep track of all the potentially harmful ingredients in bath products and cosmetics, but even a small amount of research would show so many red flags with those ingredients! I missed the twitter party, but wonder why companies still use such harmful ingredients and those that promote them don’t do any research about the products?

  16. Hi Jennifer,
    I wasn’t involved in the Twitter party for Suave Kids so was unaware of the concerns that had been raised there until I read your post after seeing that you’d linked to mine. I thank you for bringing these concerns up and will definitely be looking more closely at the ingredients when I purchase products for my family. I know that in my post I never stated that the Free and Gentle bodywash is fragrance-free – just that it’s hard to find options that are dye and fragrance free, and that I’m glad that the Free & Gentle isn’t strongly scented as so many others are. Reading it back though, I can see where that’s possibly unclear so I will edit my post to make sure it’s worded accurately.

    I guess at this point, I’m still happy with the product and how it’s worked for my family, but that’s something everyone needs to decide for themselves and what they’re comfortable with. I’m glad that you are providing this information so that we all can make more informed decisions. And if you can suggest some options that are safer, I’d love to consider them! Thanks. :)

  17. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  18. Melanie says:

    My son had a severe allergic reaction to the Kid’s Free and Gentle; the exact bottle pictured in the article. This was the first time I purchased a body wash that was not the J&J baby wash we normally used. Big mistake! My poor son had hives all over his body for about a week before I figured out that it was the “allergin free” soap. I’m not sure what chemical in the product was the cause, though. It looks like so many of these ingredients could be the culprit. Good work on pointing out the facts in this article.

  19. So what is safe? Not being sarcastic… Just WORRIED!

  20. We used this product on our 16 month old daughter 2 nights ago. (Before I read this) The next day she woke up with a severely swollen face and hives everywhere. We took her to the ER and they told us it was an allergic reaction to something. It was the first time we used this product and definitely won’t be using it again.I wish I had read this sooner. It makes me sick to know that this product is even being sold. I will never use this product again or recommend it to anyone. Thanks for the great information you have provided. I just wish I had read it sooner.

  21. Nikki Unrine says:

    For the past few months my daughter has be getting baby hives all over her body. We have been going crazy trying to figure out what has changed and what has triggered it. Well I recently injured my foot and she has not been showering with me. Instead daddy gives her a bath. Since she has had this change and she is submersed in the rinsed off suds/product this has been happening. It is the most awful reaction I’ve ever seen on a child who is never even sick. Baby hives do not look like normal grown up versions. They are raised and flat with white in the middle ringed with red. And very very large. It really freaked me out the first time I saw them on her. Now I have a very good clue as to why they started appearing and all Suave products in the household are being thrown out and returned. I am also writing to the company and asking done questions of my attorney. California Baby is great from what I’ve heard. And Burt Bees makes an organic baby line as well. There are others including Tom’s of Maine. I can promise you this though. My husband just went around the house ridding us of all the problematic products. Ingredients that are legal in the USA are often banned in Canada. For example the dyes in M&M’s. There is a suit going on regarding the fact that only in the USA versions, are artificial dangerous food colorings used. Everywhere else has been changed to all natural. It appears our government cares more about the lining of there pockets then the well being of it’s citizens in more then one area of it legislature. Where in our constitution is the amendment that says our governmentally regulated agencies have the right to endanger the health and well being of minors and adults alike? Wow…what a great country I live in.

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