How to decipher baby skincare product labels: expert tips
What's in the label of your baby's skincare products? Quite a lot! Learn how to read the label properly and decipher the information it presents.
As parents, we want only the best for our babies. We want to make sure that every ingredient we use on their delicate skin is safe and the way it is formulated in the product is gentle.
When buying a skincare product, the first thing we usually do is read the label. But how do we make sense of all the complex information on product labels? And how do we determine what’s right for our little ones? Can we truly trust fancy packaging and clever wording on the labels?
Mums and dads, don’t be fooled by a product name or description – get to know and understand product labels!
We recently had the opportunity to speak to James Kennedy, who is an author, Chemistry teacher and Founder of ‘Sincerely, Chemicals’, about baby skincare product labels. The ‘Sincerely, Chemicals’ initiative aims to inform the public about chemistry and the purpose of chemicals used in everyday products, including skincare.
We asked Mr Kennedy to debunk some myths related to labelling and skincare ingredients.
Here is what he has to say!
Should parents check product labels before buying skincare products?
Mr Kennedy believes you should, and a little more: “Do read the labels,” he says. “But parents really need to understand what they are reading. Ingredient labels can be very important sources of information for those with allergies.
“However, it is important to note that the presence or absence of an ingredient is not completely relevant unless you know the dosage. And almost all the time the dosage is not given on the label.
“Therefore, for those concerned about allergies, the ingredient label is a starting point, but more information might be needed if an ingredient of concern appears on the label.
“If you have specific concerns about product mildness and suitability for your baby’s skin, one thing you can do is look at the front label, and see the clinical testing claims that the brand has made.
“Each claim that is on the front of the label has to go through rigorous approval. So if they say that the product is clinically tested, it has to be actually clinically tested. However, one potential watch out here is the wording and additional supporting information provided. For example, ‘Clinically tested’ or ‘dermatologist tested’ only indicates the product was tested and does not indicate what the testing result was. Look for additional support wording such as, 'hypoallergenic,' or 'clinically proven mild.'
“Buy a product that has been clinically proven to be mild and effective for your little one.”
James also tells us that some ingredients on the label may sound very "chemical-like" and dangerous. But that may not always be true.
For example, even though the ingredient citric acid has the word "acid" in it, it is not harmful at the levels it is typically formulated at. It regulates the pH levels of the product and also protects it from microbial contamination. Tocopherol is another good example. The word itself can sound intimidating, but it is actually vitamin E, which protects the product from going rancid.
He adds, “If you want to talk about chemicals as being potentially harmful, everything is a harmful chemical if you have too much of it in a single dosage. Water is a harmful chemical too; drinking six liters in a single sitting can be deadly. Salt is a harmful chemical. Just a few teaspoons of nutmeg for instance, could kill a person. Even too much air can make us nauseous.
“Everything depends on the dosage, and almost all the time, the dosage is not given on the label. However, when products are used appropriately, and as indicated on the usage instructions, they are usually safe.
“It’s all about risk and hazard. Hazard is the presence of something dangerous. Risk is the statistical likelihood that a person would get hurt by that hazard.
“What we should focus on, is not on the hazard, which is, 'Is it there?' But, 'Is it there in an amount which can cause me harm?'”
Mr Kennedy reveals that, sometimes companies use a technique called “greenwashing.” They employ words like "natural" or "organic" to give the impression that the product is made entirely from natural or organic ingredients, when that isn’t the case.
The fact is that, due to very loose regulations surrounding these terms, when it comes to labelling practices and ingredients, these terms can mean absolutely nothing. The products can still be full of toxic chemicals and other harmful ingredients.
“Sometimes, people fall for claims of the product being 'natural.' The psychology behind it is, people assume that natural is safe, healthy, harmless, environmentally friendly, vegan, organic etc,” says James.
“In general, avoid products that claim to be overly green and natural, without the clinical studies to support those claims.
“‘Natural’ is very poorly regulated in most markets. The Canadian definition for a ‘natural’ product, is an agricultural product that has been processed no more than minimally. What is considered as minimally includes chopping, mincing, juicing, pickling, salting etc – very basic things you that you can do in the kitchen.
“So, you can have natural orange juice. You can have natural coffee. But you can’t call decaffeinated coffee natural, because you can’t take anything away. You can’t add anything to it.
“Meanwhile, the United States of America has no clear cut definition for ‘natural,’ so you can even have all-natural gummy bears.
“‘Pure’ means that the product contains only one ingredient, or chemically, it contains one compound.
“‘Organic,’ meanwhile refers to the way the product has been farmed. It is completely irrelevant to call healthcare or beauty products organic because organic is just a farming practice. The ingredients can be organic, but the product itself cannot be called organic.”
“Be wary of products that claim to be 'preservative free.' Any product that contains water and is used more than once can become contaminated with microorganisms, and this can make them dangerous,” warns Mr Kennedy.
“Think about this: You buy a 'natural, organic,' food-based lotion, and put that container for months in the bathroom... It’s next to the toilet, and you are putting your hand into the product, and taking it out, every single day, and basically exposing the product to more microbes.
“And you are also flushing every day, and pathogens are being released. It would go bad very quickly in the warm moist environment next to the toilet.
“Remember, these products are also food for bacteria and fungi, so if you don’t preserve them, they would get attacked by microbes.
“And they go bad much [earlier than when] they look bad.”
Mums and dads, do take note. According to the HSA, a “natural,” “organic,” “contains no preservatives,” or “100% herb” skin product may not necessarily be “better” or “safer.”
Some plants and herbs are poisonous and others may cause allergies in certain individuals. Natural products also generally have shorter shelf lives. This is because they contain plant ingredients, which are conducive for bacterial growth.
As they are usually preservative free, these products generally have to be discarded sooner as well.
Not all fragrances are created equal
Studies have found that newborns have a keen sense of smell. Within the first few days they will show a preference for the smell of their own mother.
In fact, smell, memory and emotion are intimately connected. Decades of research have shown that multi-sensory experiences are a key part of happy, healthy baby development.
Fragrance has the power to enhance the bond between parent and baby and support the development of the baby's senses. Studies have found that use of products with allergen-free fragrance can reduce infant stress and crying. It can also enhance sleep, and improve engagement between mother and baby.
However, common problems observed with fragranced products are skin allergies and skin irritation. Skin allergy to fragrance ingredients occurs when skin has been exposed to a minimum dose of a fragrance allergen.
Again, the general perception is that "natural" fragrances are safer. But the fact is that many essential oils are actually very high in skincare allergens that are of concern to dermatologists and pediatricians.
The key then, is to buy skincare products which have eliminated these fragrance allergens, and adhere to international standards.
Finally, we asked James Kennedy, what is the one thing parents should do when it comes to choosing “gentle” for their babies?
“I would just say, go for a brand that you trust, and who have the time and resources to do clinical trials, with safety and efficacy, as simple as that,” he said.
“So, trust a brand to do the scientific clinical testing, and be skeptical of the ones who have never had the time or resources to do that. Some of these brands have not been around for two to three years, which is about the amount of time that it takes to create, thoroughly test, and put into the market a completely new formulation.”
Parents want to feel good and sure about what they are putting on their baby's skin. That's why JOHNSON’S® has taken the bold step of disclosing 100% of the ingredients in its baby products.
Putting parents and their little ones first, JOHNSON’S® has set a new standard of gentle with the relaunch of its baby products, including the All-New CottonTouch, that is designed for newborns from day one.
The new JOHNSON’S® line of products has over 50% lesser ingredients, with no added parabens, phthalates, sulfates, dyes and fragrance allergens. The ingredients are assessed and have undergone a rigorous five-step safety-assurance process, promising parents a greater piece of mind.
JOHNSON’S® has also retained the iconic scents for which their classic products are known and loved for. Today, all the fragrances used are now formulated to be free of allergens, and continue to meet and exceed the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) and RIFM Global standards.
*This article has been sponsored by Johnson & Johnson.
ASC Reference no. J111P070919J