Are your baby products damaging your child’s skin? Yanar Alkayat looks into this issue.
Are your baby products damaging your child’s skin? Yanar Alkayat looks into this issue.
For many women, pregnancy and birth is the first introduction into natural beauty, as they start to question what products to use and what to avoid to keep a baby healthy. The National Eczema Society estimates that today one in five children suffer from the skin condition eczema. However, if you go back to the 1950s just three per cent of children were reported to be sufferers. This remarkable rise is likely to be multi-causal but luckily there are simple ways to protect your little ones.
Simple is best
At birth, a baby’s skin is thin and at its most fragile. The first few weeks are when vital changes take place as skin forms its own natural protective barrier to the environment. Many experts agree that using soaps too early can disrupt the process and delay the protective barrier (also called the ‘acid mantle’) from forming.
The World Health Organisation advises delaying bathing for at least six hours after birth so that the skin can develop fully.
The slippery film on a newborn baby, called vernix caseosa, is like a natural moisturiser full of proteins and essential fats with antibacterial and antifungal properties. Experts say that minimising exposure to soap and not removing the vernix after birth can help improve skin’s barrier functions.
Consultant Dermatologist Saleem Taibjee, a member of the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), says to limit the amount of products you use on a baby’s skin during the first three months and to keep it simple. “It is advisable to wash your baby with only plain water for at least the first month, or alternatively stick to mild, pH-neutral products specifically indicated for babies,” he says.
Midwife and baby and parenting expert Sharon Trotter (tipslimited.co.uk), agrees. “Any use of manufactured detergents, however mild their claims, has the potential to disrupt the delicate skin barrier.
The safest way to protect the skin is to avoid harsh detergents and lotions,” says Trotter, who encourages mothers to avoid products for as long as possible.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends not using cleansing agents, lotions or medicated wipes for the first four to six weeks after birth. According to a NIC spokesperson however, it’s difficult to know how much of this information is reaching mothers on wards.
What to avoid
If you’re about to introduce products to a baby’s bath regime, it’s important to check the label.
Dr Taibjee says that if a baby does not have a problem with dry skin you may not need to use a moisturiser at all, but if you do, use something simple with no added fragrance – perfumed products can irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
Harsh detergents can strip skin of its natural oils, so avoid common culprits such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), which is a cleansing and foaming agent found in shampoos, bubble baths and shower gels. A baby’s soft, thin skin can react to SLS leading to redness, dryness and irritation.
“Long-term damage to the skin’s barrier function could potentially lead to inflammationand eczema,” says Dr Taibjee.
For some children the skin barrier is weak from birth (this is now thought to be a genetic condition), leaving them more susceptible to conditions such as atopic eczema. If it runs in the family there is a higher risk of the baby developing the condition. In these circumstances, NICE recommends using an emollient from birth and to avoid soap or detergents.
Common trigger factors such as synthetic clothing, disinfectants, perfume-based products and diet are also identified.
Interestingly, recent studies at the University of Bath and the University of Sheffield have shown that aqueous cream – traditionally used by doctors to remedy skin conditions such as eczema – contains SLS, which can exasperate eczema. Experts from the British Association of Dermatologists recommend checking that emollients are SLS-free and to avoid topical steroid creams as they are too harsh and would cause skin damage too.
The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (safecosmetics.org), an organisation raising awareness of the toxins in our environment, recently tested 28 children’s bath products in the US, some of which are labelled as gentle, and found 17 with trace contaminants such as formaldehyde and dioxane; high levels of these toxins have been identified as potentially carcinogenic in the past.
These toxins may be by-products of chemical processes – for instance when sodium lauryl sulphate is softened to make sodium laureth sulphate (the milder version for skin) dioxane is released.
Dr Chris Flower, director general of the trade organisation the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association, says: “These traces are not harmful at the levels that are present.” Meanwhile, a UK spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson Ltd highlighted the company’s “extremely stringent and rigorously applied safety policy” when questioned about trace contaminants.
For healthy baby skin stick to a simple and gentle cleansing regime. Avoid nappy rash by not leaving a wet or dirty nappy on for longer than necessary. Make sure you cleanse the skin at each nappy change, preferably with cotton wool and water. Use a simple nappy cream as a protective barrier.
If products are being introduced, Loraine Murry, a natural beauty expert for Weleda, explains that there are effective plant-based cleansers made from sugar and coconut, removing the need for SLS. “These are mild and gentle on the skin and entirely biodegradable,” she says. “They may not bubble in the same way as synthetic detergents but there’s a creamy lather instead.”
If your baby has sensitive or dry skin it is important to steer clear of things that will dry or irritate the skin further. Dress your baby in comfortable, ‘breathable’ clothes made of materials such as cotton. If you’re using baby wipes opt for ones that are suitable for sensitive skins and without alcohol.
For mothers who still feel unsure about what to use on newborn baby skin, Elizabeth Salter Green, director of CHEM Trust (chemtrust.org.uk), says: “The rise in skin conditions is probably a multi-causal effect, from the food we eat to environmental pollutants, so my philosophy is if it’s not needed don’t use it – that way you cut out a lot of unnecessary exposure to chemicals. The health of your baby is a terribly vulnerable time and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Midwife and baby expert Sharon Trotter shares her Dos and Don’ts of baby skincare
• Use water and cotton wool to wash your baby during the first month.
• Keep the skin around the umbilical cord clean and dry – avoid alcohol or antiseptics.
• Breastfeed if you can – this strengthens a baby’s immune system and they will be less likely to suffer from allergies.
• Test a first-time product on a small area of your baby’s ankle or wrist and wait a few hours to check for redness or irritation.
• Use a thin layer of barrier cream on the nappy area.
• Use baby skincare products for the first month of your baby’s life.
• Bath your baby too often – every two to three days is enough.
• Automatically reach for shampoo to wash your baby’s hair – water is usually enough.
• Use products containing sulphates, preservatives, perfumes or petrochemicals.
• Use products on broken skin.
Here are some top baby products to look after your little one’s skin. Remember, it’s best to avoid using any products in the first four to six weeks of your baby’s life
The Organic Pharmacy Ultra Dry Skin Cream, £36.95 for 100ml
This super-rich nourishing body cream calms, soothes and restores dry skin, bringing instant relief. Enriched with evening primrose, tamanu, aeem and rosehip, it is gentle enough to be used on babies as well as adults.
Weleda Baby Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash, £6.95 for 200ml
Approved by paediatricians and dermatologists, this 2-in-1 product carefully cleanses and gently cares for a baby’s skin and hair. It features extracts from biodynamically grown calendula flowers to soothe the skin and scalp.
Natracare Organic Baby wipes, £3.50 for 50
These certified organic baby wipes are infused with organic apricot oil, chamomile and linden together with plant extracts to soothe your baby’s skin. They are also biodegradable and free from parabens, phenoxyethanol, propylene glycol and other toxic chemicals.
Green People 3-in-1 No Scent Baby Lotion, £9.45 for 150ml
This natural baby lotion contains organic hemp, calendula and aloe vera and
can be used as a cleanser and moisturiser for little bottoms. It is made without parabens, lanolin, phthalates, artificial perfumes, petrochemicals and colourants.
Bamford Organic Baby Balm, £20 for 60g
This 100 per cent organic baby balm features a nourishing blend of shea butter, rosehip and extra virgin olive oils which are excellent for use as a barrier balm under nappies or on areas of dryness.
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