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.”
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.