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Harmful Ingredients in Baby Products

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jan 07, 2021

Harmful Ingredients in Baby Products

Beware of potentially harmful ingredients in baby products. Baby products are often marketed as safe—but not all products are what they seem. While labels read “mild,’ tear-free,’ and “gentle,’ does that really make them 100% safe? As a responsible parent or caregiver, always read the ingredients list before purchasing and using products on your child. Here are some ingredients to watch out for.

Top 5 Harmful Ingredients in Baby Products

#1: Phthalates

What are phthalates? These are chemicals known as plasticizers, which are found in hundreds of products ranging from toys, detergents, car parts, and personal hygiene products. While phthalates are  in many products, there are not enough studies to show their health effects in infants. In one study,  phthalates were present in urine, suggesting that it enters the body and circulation.

Check the label for ingredients like dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), and diethylphthalate (DEP). DEP is the most common and often included in fragrances. Some animal lab studies using phthalates showed effects on the reproductive system and hormones. While more research on the topic is necessary, it is best to avoid baby products with phthalates.

#2: Talc

Talc is a soft, white mineral that is the main ingredient in most baby powders. While baby powder is a common household item and baby care essential, there may be a potential risk for cancer (particularly ovarian cancer). This is because talc may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen. As a powder, it is easy to inhale and absorb.

Thankfully, asbestos is not common today. The baby powders available in stores are generally safe. For safety, the FDA regularly inspects and reports products that contain high levels of contaminants such as asbestos and lead. Stay vigilant for any recalls or notifications regarding these products.

interpreting baby cries

#3: BPAs

BPA is short for bisphenol A. It is a chemical often found in plastic containers such as water bottles and food packaging. While useful, BPAs can be a harmful ingredient in baby products. The danger lies in its potential health effects on the brain and nervous systems, especially in infants and developing fetuses.

BPA can transfer from the container into the product or food. Check the packaging for the words “BPA-free’ and avoid plastics with the recycle symbol with the numbers 3 or 7. Avoid heating plastic containers in the microwave or leave them exposed to heat, as it can increase the amount of BPA that is transferred.

#4: Fragrances

For obvious reasons, baby diapers are definitely not the best-smelling things in the world. You may think it’s a good idea to cover up odors using perfumes and scented products, but these may do more harm than good. Even in adults, products that contain perfumes and fragrances can cause allergic reactions (contact dermatitis). Babies have more delicate skin and immune systems, therefore the effects of these ingredients can be more harmful.

Check the labels to ensure that there are no synthetic perfumes or fragrances. Examples of these ingredients include benzenes, aldehydes, and toluene. Choose products labeled as “fragrance-free’ rather than “unscented.’ Unscented products still contain chemicals that have a neutral scent or mask other scents, but can still be harmful.

#5: Formaldehyde

Finally, there’s formaldehyde. While last on this list, formaldehyde is one of the most dangerous chemicals here. Formaldehyde is commonly found in industrial products, though it can be an ingredient in some baby shampoos and soaps. Examples include disinfectants, plywood, and insulation materials. Additionally, embalmers use it to preserve bodies.

The major danger of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients is the increased risk of cancer. Many patients who developed cancer were found to have been regularly exposed to high levels of formaldehyde in the workplace. Although there are lacking studies on its effect on babies, it is best to stay away from formaldehyde as much as possible.

Key takeaways

In short, babies are more sensitive to chemical exposure. Unfortunately, unlike adults, babies cannot avoid dangerous chemicals on their own. That’s where parents and caregivers play an essential role. This article summarizes some of the most common and harmful ingredients in baby products that you should avoid. If your baby has used any products with these ingredients and has an adverse reaction, contact a doctor or pediatrician as soon as possible.

Learn more about Parenting here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Written by

Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


Updated Jan 07, 2021

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