Do You Know What You're Putting on Your Body?

Photo by  Michal Bar Haim

Although this post was inspired by my daughter, it is a point that applies to all of us equally, whether we're parents or not.

Recently, my daughter got a rash on her belly and head. It seemed like a weird combination of places for this to happen. At first, I attributed it to laundry detergent since she's been wearing a hat lately (which would account for her head), so I switched laundry detergent brands. I have to say that this was, in and of itself, an entirely frustrating--but also enlightening--experience. 

I must have stood in the detergent aisle for at least fifteen minutes. Even the most natural brands had ingredient lists that might as well have been in a different language. They meant absolutely nothing to me. And this applied just as equally to the "gentle" baby brands of detergent. I'm going to assume that anything I can't pronounce is a chemical, and, with the exception of water, that's what most of the ingredients seemed to be. Finally, I settled on Seventh Generation, the only brand that appears to be composed of plant products, despite all of the other claims of "natural" by other detergents.

So, I came home and washed everything. I have to say that I felt a noticeable difference when I slipped into bed that night. It was almost as if some sort of film that had always been on my sheets was gone. (For the record, I am a frequent bed-sheet-washer.)

But while my sheets changed, Izzy's rash didn't.

Then it occurred to me that the most likely culprit was the combo body wash/shampoo I use on her. "But that doesn't make sense," I thought. After all, I use Honest Company brand, and this is supposed to be the good, natural stuff ... right?

I stopped and thought about it some more. What research had I actually done on the product? None, really, if I'm being honest. It was more a matter of buying into marketing. Most of what I knew about their products came from Honest Company iteself. So, I did the next most obvious thing and fell down an internet black hole. 

Before going any further here, let me be perfectly clear that I am definitely not an expert in any way, shape, or form when it comes to science, chemicals, and toxins. But, then again, that's sort of the point: I'm an average person who doesn't really understand a lot of what I read on labels. Shouldn't it all be in plain enough language that any dummy like me can understand?

But, I digress. Through my internet searching, I found that other people had experiences with the product similar to mine. And then in a few specific mothers' discussion group boards, I found there was a correlation between these bath products and UTIs in babies. While I obviously can't say for sure if there is a link, Izzy did, in fact, have a UTI a few months ago that I couldn't for the life of me figure out the origins of. But I certainly would have never guessed it came from her "non-toxic" bath wash.

One of the most valuable resources I stumbled across was a website called I Read Labels for You. This site was started by a mom who was totally befuddled by which products were actually best for her baby, so she learned how to research ingredients herself and shares that knowledge on her web site.

It's here that I learned some incredibly disheartening information that applies not only to the Honest Shampoo and Body Wash, but, much more than that, to the "non-toxic"  industry in general. There is a database called the Skin Deep Database that is run by a group called the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They started the site in 2004 because the government doesn't review the safety of products before they're sold, so EWG has taken it upon themselves to do so to help consumers make smarter decisions. (Okay, first of all, what?!? I'm not in any way, shape, or form for over-regulation, but this seems incredibly wrong to me). 

Anyway, EWG has devised a scale that rates ingredients from 0 to 10, with 10 being the most toxic. So, what's the problem? It's that a 0 rating doesn't necessarily mean a product is non-toxic--it just means that the ingredient hasn't been tested yet, so there's no basis for claiming it's harmful. What?!? The problem here is that companies like Honest can claim products are non-toxic when all that really means is that they're just using ingredients that haven't yet been tested. If you look online, however, there appears to be plenty of evidence that their Shampoo and Body Wash can be irritating to babies.

It sounds like I'm calling out Honest Company here. I'm not, really. I should have done more research about the product instead of just buying into marketing. And, frankly, I had no idea that, in general, products were this unregulated. This has been an incredibly valuable lesson to me in terms of becoming a more conscious consumer. I now know that just looking for "non-toxic" labels isn't enough because, well, it really doesn't necessarily mean that much. This has also motivated me to start looking at what I can do to make more of my own products so that I know exactly what's in them and where those ingredients are coming from. Hello, new mini-goal!

So, as I start to delve into this area and take a more careful look at the products I'm using, I'd love to hear what some of your favorite non-toxic body, cleaning, and beauty products (or recipes!) are. Lemme know in the comments below!

(For those of you moms out there interested in more information, I Read Labels for You also offers a free 5-Day Healthy Baby Registry Email Course to help you identify the products that are most healthy for your baby. I should also mention that none of this is sponsored--I'm just passing along information that I found helpful.)