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Baby personal care from the bottom up

Consumers are turning to natural products stores for safe alternatives in baby skin care, and naturals manufacturers.

Anna Soref

April 23, 2008

9 Min Read
Baby personal care from the bottom up

Anyone who has ever held a baby knows how soft and delicate infant skin can be. So it's normal that parents arm themselves with creams, lotions, shampoos and soaps specially designed to protect a baby's fragile skin. Yet many of the mass market infant personal care products contain chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, petrolatum and parabens—all of which can enter the bloodstream through the skin. More frequently, consumers are turning to natural products stores for safe alternatives in baby skin care, and naturals manufacturers have responded with products that contain soothing and healing herbs and no harsh chemicals.

A Rash Of Skin Problems

A baby's tender skin is susceptible to a variety of skin conditions including rashes and cradle cap, with rashes being the most common.

"There are many different things that cause rashes, and I think in our culture, because we use so many different products and chemicals, that there's a lot of detective work involved in discovering what's causing the problem," says Tara Levy, N.D., with Mt. Diablo Natural Health Center in Concord, Calif.

Diaper rash can be particularly frustrating for parents because the baby's skin can become quite irritated and painful. "Diaper rashes are sometimes one of the hardest things to figure out," Levy says.

"It can be chemicals in the diaper itself, something in the formula or foods that mom is eating and then baby is getting in the breast milk, or soaps and other things being put on the baby's skin—there's a lot of detective work involved."

Eczema is a common rash affecting babies that is often caused by allergens. "The standard response to eczema is to use hydrocortisone cream to suppress it, but it's really a sign that some sort of inflammation is going on, some sort of allergic reaction, and once again it's detective work to figure out what it is," Levy says.

Baby acne is another frequently occuring infant skin condition. "Baby acne has no known cause; some babies get it, and some babies don't," Levy says. "I think it's more often a dietary issue than a contact issue." Common allergens are caffeine, chocolate, citrus, soy and wheat, all of which can be transferred to the baby via breast milk, she says.

Cradle cap, the yellowish scalp crust that affects many infants, is often caused by a lack of essential fatty acids in the mother's diet, according to Levy. "You can scrape it off and oil the scalp, but getting EFAs into the diet is going to make a huge difference."

The Skinny On Irritants Levy points to several common ingredients in mainstream baby products that can cause skin irritations. "Some of the harsher cleaners with chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate and fragrances are irritating to children as well as adults," Levy says. "Babies don't need super cleaning stuff. They only need to be bathed once or twice a week, assuming you are keeping their bottoms clean."

Because of its potential as an allergen, lanolin is best avoided in baby care products. "You want to make sure that anything you put on a baby's skin is safe to go in their mouths because they put their hands in their mouths and they suck on their arms and toes," Levy says.

Parents should also avoid products containing talc, which rules out most mainstream baby powders. While talc is not necessarily a skin irritant, it has been associated with cervical cancer risk in women and increased lung problems, according to Levy. "When you apply talc, it gets into the lungs, and a child's lungs are developing until the age of 8, so anything you expose them to during that time can potentially damage their development," Levy says.

Products For Pampering Baby

Many naturals manufacturers are making skin care products for babies' special needs. Weleda, a Swiss company, has been in the baby care business for 80 years and has the No. 3 baby care line in Europe. "We develop products through all the life stages, and babies are the beginning," says Christine Mack, director of communications and development for Weleda, which has its U.S. headquarters in Congers, N.Y.

The baby line, which includes diaper cream, massage oil, talc-free powder and lotion, is calendula-based. "We use calendula because it has warming properties, and babies don't have the same protective layer of skin as adults," Mack says. "And it's incredibly soothing and healing to the skin."

Weleda doesn't use artificial colors or preservatives in its baby line, and when possible, the products contain "biodynamically" produced herbs grown by the company. "We try to grow as many ingredients as possible in our own gardens throughout Europe," Mack says.

Biodynamic gardening, which is based on the moon's cycle, is a step above organic because the plant is harvested at its peak when the most vital nutrients are present, according to Mack.

Instead of talc, the line's baby powder contains kaolin, a naturally occurring clay. It also has chamomile, calendula and birch to nourish and soothe the skin. The line's best-selling product is its Calendula Baby Cream.

Co-owners Diana Kay and James Hahn of TerreEssentials in Middletown, Md., designed their line of personal care products, which includes a baby line, because they were frustrated with the lack of real "natural" products in naturals stores. "We saw a really big need in the industry for clean products. We thought someone had to do it and it might as well be us," Kay says.

"Our philosophy is that we want our products to be as close as possible to what we eat," Kay says. "A large percentage of what you put on your skin goes directly into the bloodstream; it doesn't even get filtered by your digestion. That's why we feel so strongly that you want it to be food-quality [products] that you're rubbing on your baby," she says.

Toward this end, the TerreEssentials baby line contains no chemicals or synthetic preservatives. "We experimented with various herbs and certified-organic grain alcohol to find combinations that preserve the products," Hahn says.

He adds that by preserving he does not mean that the products will last two to three years, but rather six months to a year. Because the company does not use distributors, the products are made to order and then shipped so freshness is guaranteed.

Many of the line's products are made from organic food-based ingredients. The Tush Treatment contains beeswax from organic honey and organic cocoa butter—the same used in the Newman's Organics food line—to create a natural barrier on the skin that repels water. Chamomile and calendula are added through a slow cold-fusion process.

Hahn says the important thing about their Baby Wash is what's not in it. "We wanted to find something that would be really mild and the mildest cleanser you can use is 100 percent olive oil castille. It's extremely gentle," Hahn says. The wash also contains organic, cold-pressed jojoba oil, which is similar to the oil secreted naturally by humans so it's very soothing to the skin, according to Hahn.

Both Hahn and Kay recommend their products for infants 4 months of age and older. "For the first 3 to 4 months of life, we often recommend only distilled water be used on babies' bodies to give them time to adjust to the environment and learn the smell of their mother, not some fragrance," Kay says.

Arizona Babies in Gilbert, Ariz., deals only in baby care products. The company offers several lines of aromatherapy-based personal care products for infants.

The company's Tranquil Blend line features products scented with tangerine and Roman chamomile to calm a child or help induce sleep. Parents can use the Tranquil Blend products to create a calming ritual for a cranky baby. "You can give them a bath with the tranquil time bath, then maybe a light massage and then spray their pillow or crib with the pillow spray," says Barbara Murphey-Shannon, co-founder of the company.

Arizona Babies also makes a nopales cactus extract-based line. "Being from Arizona, we wanted to have a cactus-based product," Murphey-Shannon says. Before developing the products, she visited the Arizona Cactus and Succulent Research Institute in Bisbee, Ariz. "Everyone loves aloe but [the institute] really directed us to the prickly pear (nopales is Spanish for prickly pear cactus). Native Americans have been using it for centuries because of its healing qualities. It's great for dry, irritated skin."

The nopales lotion and bath wash are effective for treating eczema, cradle cap and dry spots, according to Murphey-Shannon. "We have moms who swear by it," she says.

Considering the demand for organic baby food and chemical-free diapers and wipes, it's no surprise that natural baby personal care products are carving out their own little niche. As the natural personal care category continues to grow, so will parents' product options for pampering their little ones.


Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 10/p. 66, 68, 70


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