Toxic Living: Baby Soap And Baby Wash

baby soap and baby wash

Bath soaps for adults often contain harsh synthetic ingredients. But that’s not true for children’s bath products, is it?

Unfortunately, it is. You’d think companies would be careful of the ingredients they use in products for babies and children. But that’s not always the case.

baby soap and baby wash

The Environmental Working Group says that every day the average child is exposed via body care products to 27 chemicals that have not been tested for children. You may find these chemicals in baby soap, body wash, shampoo, lotion, and other personal care products for children. Many of these chemicals have known links to cancer, hormone disruption, brain damage, and allergies.

How safe is your baby soap and baby wash?

Baby soap and baby washes are rinse off products. So you’d think that they’re not an issue, right?

While baby soap and baby wash are “rinse off” products and (ideally) don’t stay on bub’s skin too long, there are other ways by which ingredients in these products can enter the body.

When you give baby a bath, the warm water opens up her pores. If there are toxic ingredients in the baby body wash, they enter the skin faster, your baby’s largest organ.

Aside from that, the warmth of the bath vaporises many chemicals. And your baby breathes them in. Babies and toddlers like to put their hands in their mouths, so it’s easy for them to swallow these ingredients. It also gets in their eyes.Best Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet

What’s in baby soap and baby wash?

Most baby wash and liquid baby soaps have water acting as the solvent for the other ingredients.

There are emulsifiers that increase the product’s foaming action, make it thicker, and help the oils and water mix properly.

You’ll also find detergents, which do the actual cleaning, and surfactants, which make bubbles.

When the main ingredient is water, it’s a perfect breeding ground for mould and harmful bacteria. Preservatives protect the product and stop it going off.

Finally, there are often fragrances that help the product smell nice (and hide smells from some of the other ingredients).

Ingredients to avoid in baby soap and baby wash

Some ingredients can potentially cause health problems. So read your labels! And avoid baby bath products that contain any of these:


  • Benzalkonium chloride (also known as BZK, BAC, BKC) – a skin and respiratory irritant. And this chemical can cause severe eye irritation which can be toxic to the immune and nervous systems.
  • Benzyl alcohol – not good for products used around the mouth. It can cause severe allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals – formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and can cause leukaemia and various other types of cancer. It’s also a known respiratory toxicant and a potent allergen.
  • Parabens – are chemicals that can mimic the hormone oestrogen and wreak havoc on the endocrine system. And they can cause developmental disorders, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, and cancer.
  • Phenoxyethanol – is another potential allergen. When ingested by infants, it can depress the central nervous system and cause respiratory distress and vomiting.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) – MIT is an irritant and allergen that has been banned from leave-on products in the European Union. Also, MCI is a contact allergen.
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate –  formaldehyde releaser that can cause skin and eye irritation even at concentrations lower than 1%.
  • Diazolidinyl urea – also a formaldehyde releaser. Can cause contact dermatitis.

Emulsifiers and others

  • PEGs (polyethylene glycols) – can be contaminated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen. PEGs are penetration enhancers. That means they allow other ingredients to be absorbed more easily through the skin. That’s not a good thing when there are other toxic chemicals in the product.
  • Propylene glycol – also a penetration enhancer. It’s potentially toxic to the liver and kidneys, can cause mild conjunctivitis, and is a skin irritant.
  • Dioxane – you won’t find this on labels because it’s a chemical byproduct, not an ingredient. But it’s incredibly common. It was found in 57% of all baby soaps tested by EWG in 2007. 1,4-dioxane is possibly carcinogenic to humans and is toxic to the brain, kidneys, and liver. It’s commonly found in ingredients that end in -eth.


  • Ceteareth-12 / Ceteareth-20 – more penetration enhancers. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine – can cause allergic reactions in some people. Was voted Allergen of the Year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
  • Cocamide DEA – a common ingredient in “no tears” baby soaps and shampoos. DEA is an allergen and can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Cocamide DEA has also been linked to organ toxicity and may be contaminated with nitrosamines, most of which are possibly carcinogenic.
  • Laureth-4 – a skin and eye irritant. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) – both can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. SLS is a penetration enhancer that breaks down the skin’s moisture barrier. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.


  • Fragrance, perfume, or parfum – these are catch all terms for potentially dangerous ingredients that companies are not obligated to reveal. Synthetic fragrances have been linked to eczema, allergies, and neurological problems. They can also be drying and irritating to skin.
  • Phthalates (often found in synthetic fragrances) – endocrine disruptors that can affect sperm health and other reproductive problems.


Synthetic colours and dyes are only there to make the baby bath products look more appealing. They aren’t necessary and they can contain heavy metals and cause allergic reactions.

How to avoid the toxic stuff

With so many natural baby products available these days, there’s really no reason to stick with toxic brands.

I know the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Doing your own research on which baby soaps and washes are best takes a lot of time. So we’ve done the work for you.

Check out our handpicked selection of baby bath products at Hello Charlie and grab our new Safer Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet.

Main image credit: Deposit Photos

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Toxic Living: Baby Soap And Baby Wash

Toxic Living: Bubble Bath

toxic living bubble bath and the toxic tub

toxic living bubble bath and the toxic tub

Bubble bath isn’t an essential skincare product in the way that say, toothpaste is. But it makes bathtime fun for little ones, and feels luxurious and relaxing for adults.

But before you pour a capful of bubble bath into the bath, think about this.

A bubble bath is not a ‘wash off’ product like shampoo is. You sit in the bath for a long time (depending on how good your book is, or how quickly the bathwater cools!), then you get out and dry yourself off. You don’t have a shower after you have a bath, so whatever you put in the bath stays on your skin.

How safe is your bubble bath?

Although we don’t have any such requirements in Australia, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says that:

“It is very important to follow the directions on the label of the product and to not stay in Bubble Baths for prolonged periods of time.”

The FDA requires that a warning should be put on all ‘foaming detergent bath products’: “Excessive use or prolonged exposure may cause irritation to skin and urinary tract”.

Why is that? Well, let’s have a look at the ingredients commonly found in kids’ bubble baths.

Common ingredients in bubble baths

A few common ingredients make up bubble bath products.

There’s surfactants to make the bubbles. You may find emulsifiers, which stop the ingredients from separating in the  bottle. And there may be emollients (or skin conditioners), which make your skin feel soft after you get out of the bath. Fragrance makes the bubbles smell good. Colours give the bath water a pretty tint. And finally, there are preservatives, which stop everything going off.

Like all skincare products, there are safe and not-so-safe alternatives for all the ingredients.

As I was researching baby and kids bubble baths, I found quite a few common ingredients that I would choose to avoid.

Ingredients to avoid in bubble bath

1. Fragrance – unless it’s essential oil based, I avoid fragrance. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose what’s in perfumes. And so fragrances can contain suspected allergens and sensitisers, phthalates, neurotoxins and endocrine disrupters.

2. Phthalates – often found in perfume ingredients, and you won’t know because manufacturers don’t have to tell you. Read more about why I avoid phthalates.

3. Propylene glycol – used as a humectant (to lock moisture into your skin), an emulsifier and as a preservative. It can cause skin irritation and is associated with allergic contact dermatitis. Not an ingredient that I want to be soaking in!

4. Synthetic colours – FD&C or D&C colours are just in a product to make it look pretty. They’re coal tar derivatives, which is a petroleum by product, and has contamination concerns.

Surfactants (the stuff that makes it bubbly):

5. Sulphates – these are common surfactants. SLS used to be very common, but manufacturers aren’t using it as much because it’s an irritant. But SLES is common, and I found it in a number of Australian kids bubble bath products. It’s also an irritant. There’s more about sulphates and why you should avoid them here.

6. Cocamidopropyl betaine – there are contamination concerns (nitrosamines being the main concern). That’s why it’s suspected of being an irritant. Lots of companies say it’s ‘derived from coconut’ and so it’s natural. However, it’s so far derived from coconut that it’s basically synthetic. Besides contamination concerns, cocamidopropyl betaine is also a penetration enhancer. It means that other chemicals can get into your skin more easily. And that’s concern if the other ingredients you’re exposed to are toxic.

7. PEG’s – can cause skin irritations, and shouldn’t be used on broken skin. Also, there are concerns that PEGs can be contaminated with 1,4 dioxane. Avoid whenever you can!

8. Cocamide DEA – surfactant and emulsifier which scores a 7 in EWG. It’s a skin toxicant and allergen. And it’s linked to organ system toxicity. Plus it’s considered to be a carcinogen, and there are concerns that it can be contaminated with nitrosamines. That makes for one toxic tub!

9. Polysorbate 20 – another surfactant and emulsifier. This one is problematic because it can be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4 dioxane.


10. Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) and Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) – widely associated with contact dermatitis, especially in leave on products (like bubble bath).

11. Phenoxyethanol – can cause skin and lung irritation, and there is evidence of organ toxicity.

12. Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate – scores a 6 in the EWG database, because it may release formaldehyde. Although it is derived from a natural source, it’s synthetic, not natural.

How to avoid the toxic tub:

There are safe bubble baths available! Check out the range at Hello Charlie or find one on our Safer Baby Bubble Bath Cheat Sheet.

Or skip the bubbles, and choose a few drops of sweet almond oil. Do be aware that this can make both baby and the tub slippy, so be careful.

A handful of oats in a water permeable bag will soften the water and your skin, too!

Image: BigStock

toxic living bubble bath pinterest

Toxic Beauty — Mascaras

are you using toxic mascara

are you using toxic mascara

When the ancient Egyptians first began using mascara thousands of years ago, the mixture they used was made of lead ore, charcoal, crocodile dung, and honey. Today, mascara is made from much cleaner ingredients and is less likely to give you lead poisoning. And yet, some modern mainstream mascaras aren’t all that safe either.

First, let me just say: I love mascara. It’s one of my “can’t live without it” makeup items.  It helps me look more awake and like I’ve made an effort. Mascara has the uncanny ability of taking any woman’s look from drab to fab (or at least less zombie-like!) within seconds. It’s fantastic. But before you swipe on another coat of mascara, you might want to look into which nasties could be hiding in your favourite tube.

What’s the risk with mainstream mascara?

I wasn’t always so concerned about the possible toxins in mascara. I thought because it doesn’t actually touch your eyeballs or your skin, and because I put so little of it on my lashes, the ingredients didn’t matter so much as that of, say, my eyeshadow or moisturiser.

But, as I have since learned, there are many dangerous chemicals in mascara and they can end up on your skin, your eyes, and in the oil glands of your eyelids. They can be absorbed into your bloodstream or cause problems like plugged ducts or dry eyes. This is especially true if you sleep with their mascara on, frequently rub your eyes, or use mascara daily. And even if the amount of harmful chemicals in the product is minuscule, the long-term, everyday exposure to toxins may be enough to cause problems.

What’s in mainstream mascara that’s so bad?

Some mascara ingredients are perfectly safe (water, oils, waxes), but many are irritants, allergens, hormone disruptors, carcinogens, and environmental toxins.

These are just a few of the nasty chemicals in mainstream mascaras:

Carbon black*

Carbon black is a powder pigment that gives your eyelashes that full and dramatic look. Unfortunately, it’s also a possible carcinogen and is classified as potentially toxic to human organ systems. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration lists carbon black among colour additives that are no longer authorised in cosmetics, particularly in those that will be used in the eye area. Nonetheless, it is still an ingredient in many eye liners, mascaras, eye shadows, and eyebrow liners. Carbon black has an EWG score of 6. It also goes by the names acetylene black, thermal black, lamp black, furnace black, pigment black 6 or 7, and channel black.

does your mascara have toxic ingredients


Because the moist environment inside a tube of mascara is the perfect place for bacteria and mould to grow, some sort of preservative is needed to keep the product safe to use. In mainstream mascaras, this typically means parabens. Unfortunately, though parabens keep microorganisms from multiplying, these chemicals are also pretty bad for us humans.   

Some parabens are known to disrupt hormone function, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, early puberty, and reproductive toxicity. Scientists have yet to find a causal relationship between parabens and breast cancer. However, because we’re exposed to these chemicals through so many different products on a daily basis, we could be overloading our bodies, which could lead to a wide range of health issues.

The most common types of parabens in cosmetics are propylparaben (EWG score of 7), methylparaben (4), ethylparaben (4), and butylparaben (7).


Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) control the growth of microbes in mascara and other cosmetics. BHT, which EWG gave a score of 4, is classified as a respiratory irritant and is considered toxic or harmful to human organ systems. BHA, on the other hand, is rated 5-7. It’s an endocrine disruptor and a possible carcinogen.

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals

The International Agency for Research on Carcinogens (IARC) and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have both classified formaldehyde as a known carcinogen. The chemical, which EWG has given a whopping hazard rating of 10, is also an allergen and a skin toxicant. Despite the obvious risks, formaldehyde releasing cosmetic preservatives like DMDM hydantoin (7), quaternium-15 (8), and diazolidinyl urea (6) are still found in things like facial cleansers, moisturisers, toners, foundation, blush, eye liners, and — you guessed it — mascaras!

Retinyl acetate

Retinyl acetate is a synthetic vitamin A ingredient that lends its moisturising benefits to some mascaras. Unfortunately, it’s a human reproductive toxicant and is possibly carcinogenic. On the EWG hazard scale, it has a score of 9, which tells you that this one is really best avoided.


Phthalates have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and developmental and reproductive toxicity. The European Union has banned the use of these chemicals in cosmetics, but they are still common in products from the U.S.

Aside from the word “phthalate,” look for “DEP,” “DBP,” and “DEHP” in labels. Be suspicious of products that list “fragrance” or “parfum” as an ingredient. Cosmetics companies don’t have to provide a list of the individual ingredients in the fragrances they use; therefore, consumers won’t be able to tell by the label alone if there are phthalates hiding under that umbrella.

Pigments (colourants)

Some pigments are safe for use in cosmetics, but many, like carbon black, pose a wide range of health hazards. Aluminium powder, a metallic substance made of finely milled aluminium, is another colourant that’s bad news. Aluminium powder is a neurotoxin and can damage the immune and respiratory systems. EWG has given it a score of 4-9.

Make sure your mascara doesn’t contain heavy metals by looking for the specific colour index number of the colourants (such as CI 77491 for iron oxide or CI 77019 for mica).

toxic beauty mascara wand

What’s the alternative to toxic mascara?

While there’s a good chance that your current mascara contains harmful chemicals, you don’t necessarily have to ditch mascara altogether and compromise your beauty routine.

Not all mascaras are bad. Lucky for us, there are now heaps of green mascaras that really work and don’t contain a bunch of toxic ingredients. Natural mascaras are safer and are no harder to find than regular mascaras. Most of them even offer ingredients (like coconut oil, aloe vera, and sunflower seed oil) that help nourish your lashes. With all the lovely nontoxic mascaras out there, there’s just no good reason to still purchase mainstream mascara.

We recommend (and use!) these top natural mascaras:

And one last thing! Aside from the products you use, it’s also how you use them that’s important. With mascara, it’s best to stop after two coats, as more layers can clog the oil glands along your eyelids. Always store your mascara in a cool place — never in the car — as heat will degrade the product. Replace your mascara every three months. And never share or swap mascaras.

Trying to figure out which mascaras are okay and which ones are bad? Look out for our upcoming Safer Mascaras Cheat Sheet.

Have you made the switch from mainstream to natural mascara? Share your favourite brands in the comments below.