The 5 Worst Ingredients in Kids’ Body Care Products

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From shampoo to toothpaste, sunscreen and lotion, the average child is exposed to numerous chemical ingredients every day through common body care products.

Where can concerned parents start to reduce that exposure?

Here are the five most worrisome ingredients in body care products for kids.

Healthy Child Healthy World breaks down the risks – and how to avoid them.

1.     Methylisothiazolinone (MI and MCI)

This preservative – common in sunscreens marketed to children – is a potent allergen that has been linked to serious skin reactions and painful rashes.

What you can do: Look out for methylisothiazolinone in sunscreens, baby wipes and products labeled “hypoallergenic.” Visit EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens to find products made without it and steer clear of these 11 Worst Sunscreens for Kids.

2.     2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3 Diol (bronopol) and DMDM Hydantoin

These antimicrobial preservatives work by releasing formaldehyde, a human carcinogen. They are also linked to allergies and skin irritation and may be toxic to internal organs.

What you can do: Look out for bronopol on ingredient lists for CVS diaper wipes and cosmetics products such as facial cleansers, nail polish and moisturizer. Look out for DMDM Hydantoin in hair styling products, shampoos, conditioner and body washes. Visit EWG’s Skin DeepCosmetics Database to find products made without them.

3.     Oxybenzone

This active ingredient in sunscreens can disrupt hormones and cause allergic skin reactions. Oxybenzone is used in more than half of all sunscreens on the market.

What you can do: Look out for oxybenzone under “active ingredients” on labels of SPF-rated sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers. Visit EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens to find products made without it and steer clear of these 11 Worst Sunscreens for Kids.

4.     Triclosan

An antibacterial agent in liquid hand soap and dishwashing soap, triclosan harms the liver and thyroid. Because it ends up in waste and rinse water, it also harms the environment. Triclocarban, used in bar soaps, has similar effects.

What you can do: Avoid using antibacterial soap and reach for plain soap instead. Look out for triclosan in deodorant or acne treatments and any body product marketed as “antibacterial.” Visit EWG’S Guide to Triclosan to learn more.

5.     Retinyl palmitate

This form of vitamin A – common in sunscreens and lip products – can cause UV-related skin damage and potential overdosing on vitamin A (particularly dangerous for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women).

What you can do: Look out for sunscreens and SPF-rated skin or lip products that list retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate or retinoic acid on the label. Visit EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database to find products made without them and read The Problem with Vitamin Ato learn more.

Remember: using fewer products and using them less often is an effective way to reduce your family’s exposure to chemicals of all kinds.

Safer alternatives for a non-toxic Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day can be a tad commercial, but it’s so sweet to celebrate love with young kids, this can be easily overlooked. Far more distasteful than commercialization is the handful of hidden surprises that come with this annual public display of affection. Here are a few Valentine’s traditions to be wary of, and safer alternatives.

Commercial candy can fill the day with sugar overdoses, but for once that’s the least of its issues. Candy is also packed with artificial dyes, preservatives, and other unhealthy food additives. High fructose corn syrup can be contaminated by mercury. Pamper loved ones with the treat of organic fair trade dark chocolate instead. Need an excuse? It supplies key antioxidants called flavonoids and can literally help prevent broken hearts.

Costume and children’s jewelry is a common Valentine’s Day gift, but it can be contaminated with lead. If these and other similar trinkets are part of your family’s celebration, play it safe and give something else. Make bracelets out of paper!

Flowers are another ubiquitous Valentine’s pleasure, but conventional cut flowers are typically grown with pesticides and treated with hazardous chemicals to ensure longer lasting blooms. Help a healthier love blossom by handing out organic varieties instead. Houseplants last longer than cut flowers and they might even help filter the air.

School celebrations can be a minefield of less-than-lovely offerings on Valentine’s Day. From sugary cupcakes to candy and even temporary heart tattoos, there’s a lot to monitor. Talk to your school, teachers, or the PTA about instituting a card-only policy. Or offer to bring the treats in yourself and supply the class with healthier alternatives.

It’s time to bag the baggies! Use safer alternatives to plastic bags, wrap, and wax paper

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If you’re used to plastic baggies and wrap, chances are you reach for them automatically. Next time you do, consider giving them up—for health as well as environmental reasons.

Chemicals in plastic can migrate into food, especially fatty foods. Most sandwich bags are actually made from #4 plastic, which is currently considered ok by the scientific community. But it can be remarkably tricky to confirm which plastic your baggies or wrap are made of without calling manufacturers, and it’s never wise to place food in an unknown plastic. Some plastic wrap is #3 PVC, which can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates—not desirable.

It’s easy to understand why to avoid unsafe chemicals on and around your food. But it’s harder to grasp how using disposables can harm our kids and us. Think about it, though. Any plastic—#4 or #3 or something else entirely—used only briefly is a waste of resources. Plastic clogs our landfills and oceans, and may never decompose completely. Need a visual of where your baggie will likely end up? Do a Google image search for “great Pacific garbage patch.” Marine animals eat the plastic and then we wind up eating plastic when our families eat seafood. It’s an unhappy cycle.

The good news is that it’s easy as can be to use reusable baggies or to cover a (glass) bowl of fridge-bound leftovers with a reusable plate instead of plastic wrap. Reusing plastic baggies and/or wrap isn’t the answer; plastics designed for single use aren’t meant for reuse. When plastic breaks down over time, it’s more likely to release its chemical components into your food. Rely instead on non-plastic reusables. Look for easy-to-wash items made of glass, stainless steel, and lead-safe ceramics. These come in all shapes and sizes. For plastic baggies, swap in food-safe fabric bags. These are sometimes lined with waterproof materials, so read labels to make sure you’re not buying an unsafe plastic-lined baggie. For plastic wrap, swap in washable beeswax cloth in varying sizes. Bonus: reusables can save real cash! They also drastically reduce trash. The EPA says one year of school lunches creates an average of 67 pounds of trash.

If you must use disposables from time to time, look for unbleached wax paper and paper baggies lined with vegetable wax instead of petroleum-derived wax. There are cupcake liners made from this too, so stock up for the next bake sale.

There is truly life beyond plastic. Come on, give it a try.

Childhood Diseases on the Rise- What You Need To Know!

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Though the incidence of many kinds of cancer has been falling in recent years, the number of new cases of childhood cancer has been rising. So have the rates of many other childhood diseases, including autism, allergies, asthma, ADHD, learning disabilities, diabetes, and obesity. Increasingly, scientific research points to the toxic chemicals found in our homes, schools, and communities as a significant factor in this alarming trend.

Renowned pediatrician Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of Mount Sinai’s Children’s Environmental Health Center, and honorary board member of Healthy Child Healthy World, is a leading expert on the issue of environmental influences and childhood health. Here are some of his thoughts about toxic chemicals and kid’s health, and what we can do to prevent harm from chemical exposures.

On developmental disabilities:

Developmental disabilities affect 10 to 15 percent of our children. Examples include dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and mental retardation. The incidence of autism spectrum disabilities is on the rise. Now some form of autism affects 1 in 88 American children, a significant increase of 23 percent since 2006.

On phthalates:

Phthalates interfere with the body’s naturally occurring hormones, which control growth, development, and behavior. The highest levels of phthalates are found in women and young children. Vinyl plastics and personal care products are main routes of exposure to phthalates. These chemicals affect reproductive development, especially in boys, and have been linked to early puberty, as well as brain and nervous system effects.

Try these tips to avoid phthalates.

On pesticides:

Children are exposed to pesticides from playgrounds and yards that are chemically treated. Conventional fruits and vegetables are another source of pesticide exposure. Some people use pesticides in their homes, spraying chemicals to kill cockroaches and other pests. The toxic effects of pesticides on children are severe, damaging the developing brain and, in extreme cases, resulting in a loss of IQ points. Taking off shoes before entering your home will decrease the amount of pesticides tracked inside. And choosing organic fruits and vegetables lightens the load of toxic pesticides in your child’s body.

For tips and resources to make your home pesticide free, click here.

Want to learn more? Check out this video of the presentation the above remarks came from, sponsored by Kiwi Magazine’s Kiwi College program.

Verdict is in: Your OB/GYN should advise you about harmful chemicals

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Chemical makers frequently claim that their products are safe, but earlier this month two leading medical organizations declared otherwise.

In a strongly worded opinion, none other than The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists*** and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in conjunction with the University of California, San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment declared that:

“Robust scientific evidence has emerged over the past 15 years, demonstrating that preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health…. Exposure to toxic environmental agents also is implicated in increases in adverse reproductive health outcomes that emerged since World War II (and which) cannot be explained by changes in genetics alone.”

The opinion finds that there is much to be concerned about. Every pregnant women in the U.S. is exposed to at least 43 different chemicals, and many of these can cross the placenta. Such prenatal exposures are linked to negative health effects that occur not just in utero but throughout a child’s life. Prenatal contact with certain pesticides, for example, is related to an increased likelihood of childhood cancer.

Not surprisingly, children aren’t the only ones at risk. Adults are, after all, just grown up kids. The groups also cite evidence showing that chemicals harm the reproductive health of adults. They also implicate common endocrine disrupting pollutants like BPA, organophosphate pesticides, and phthalates as key culprits in this multigenerational problem.

Such dangers are not evenly distributed in the U.S.—while we’re all exposed to environmental toxins, minority families in impoverished areas typically face higher pollution levels and suffer from poor housing quality, psychosocial stresses, and nutritional issues that can exacerbate the effects of even low-dose exposures.

The opinion ends with a call for doctors to learn about these issues and actively advise their patients about avoiding toxins, particularly those who are currently pregnant and/or who are members of especially vulnerable communities or populations.

Such directives are badly needed and long overdue. They’re a highly effective first step all doctors should take with their patients, and we commend America’s reproductive physicians for taking action to make that happen. Can you hear us clapping?

***No wonder Dr. Jeanne Conry, president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is currently one of our 2013 Mom on a Mission finalists. Read more about her story here.