Lotions, soaps, wipes and other commercially available skin care products are often not necessary for your baby's skin. Some may even cause health problems. Here's what you need to know.
Four basic products
Thanks to the experts consulted: Pierre-Marc Gervais, pharmacist, and Dr. Josée Anne Gagnon, pediatrician at the Centre mère-enfant Soleil du CHU de Québec, Université Laval.
Which soap, cream or shampoo should I use? New parents, rest assured: there's no need to buy many products to protect and care for your baby's skin. Many things can be done with a washcloth, warm water and a little soap.
Here are the four basic products that experts recommend to put in your baby's toiletry kit:
- a mild, unscented soap or soap-free cleanser (sometimes called syndet, or dermatological bar). These products generally have a pH close to that of the skin, making them minimally irritating;
- A mild, unscented shampoo;
- an unscented moisturizer to be applied as needed only to dry areas;
- an unscented zinc oxide-based cream designed to combat diaper rash. If you use it as a preventive measure, choose a concentration of 10 to 20%, or replace this cream with petroleum jelly. But if your child's bottom is very red, you'll need a cream with up to 40% zinc oxide.
Not necessary, buttock wipes are not necessary.
Wipes are convenient, but generally unnecessary. Washcloths and soapy water are perfect for diaper changes. If you decide to buy wipes, choose wipes that are alcohol-free, fragrance-free and free of unwanted ingredients (see section Six things to avoid). And most importantly, never flush them down the toilet, even if the packaging says you can. These products can interfere with the proper functioning of wastewater treatment plants.
After a diaper change, it's best to leave your child without a diaper for a while so that his or her bottom can dry in the open air. However, this is not very realistic in most cases. To reduce the risk of erythema, gently wash the buttocks with water and sponge them well. If there is a small reddening, apply a zinc oxide-based cream (10-20% concentration) or petroleum jelly.
According to the experts consulted, all powders, whether talcum powder or cornstarch, are not recommended, since they increase the risk that your child will suffer from respiratory problems. In addition, the College of Physicians and Surgeons warns parents that cornstarch may cause or aggravate an infection.
Six substances to avoid
In addition to fragrances, child care products may contain several other substances that should be avoided. Here are some of them.
- Sulphate derivatives, such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), are used as detergents or foaming agents, among other things. They cause irritation in some people. SLES is also likely to contain contaminants considered carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
- Phenoxyethanol, which is a preservative. It is not restricted in Canada, but it can cause eczema and hives. A French agency, the Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé, also considers it toxic to blood and liver and suggests limits for 3-year-olds. Protégez-Vous even suggests to all consumers, young and old, to avoid this substance as much as possible.
- Phthalates, which can be used, for example, as solvents in some scented products. They are considered to be endocrine disruptors that can act on the hormonal system.
- Parabens, used as preservatives. Like phthalates, they are considered endocrine disruptors that can act on the hormonal system.
- Methylisothiazolinone (MI or MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), which act as preservatives and are likely to cause allergies. In Canada, their use is restricted in cosmetics, but you may find them in products that require rinsing, such as shampoos and soaps. Because these substances can have many different names, avoid ingredients that end with "thiazolinone".
- Alcohol, used as a preservative and solvent. This ingredient is too irritating.
True or false allegations?
Baby care products carry a variety of claims, many of which don't mean much. In particular, be wary of all therapeutic promises, since Health Canada does not give Drug Identification Numbers (DINs) or Natural Product Numbers (NPNs) to cosmetics.
As for the "organic" claims, look for those of Écocert and Québec Vrai: they attest that the plant ingredients contained in the cosmetic come from organic agriculture.
On the other hand, most of the other claims you will see on skin care products are not regulated. It is therefore the manufacturers who attribute them a meaning. The experts interviewed recommend that you still look for the following claims.
- Unscented or fragrance-free. These products may still contain ingredients that mask the smell of other substances. Examples include essential oils, such as lemon or eucalyptus.
- Hypoallergenic (or hypoallergenic), non-irritating or sensitive skin. Keep in mind, however, that some substances may be irritating to one person and not to another. It is therefore not a guarantee.
- You will also see, on many products, the Ophthalmologist Tested or Dermatologist Tested claims. Health Canada indicates that this usually means that the product has been tested in the presence of a medical specialist to make sure it does not cause eye or skin irritation. However, there are no regulations dictating the protocol for these tests.
Things to remember
- Choose unscented soaps and creams to care for your baby's skin.
- Wipes aren't necessary for diaper changes, just washcloths and soapy water.
- Several substances should be avoided in children's products, including preservatives such as phenoxyethanol, parabens and alcohol.