Are There Carcinogens in My Baby Care Products?

Chemicals found in certain products are linked to cancer

Baby getting a bath
Images By Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images

A study from the non-profit Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported that many popular baby products, like shampoo and baby wash, contained contaminants that could possibly cause cancer later in life.

Johnson & Johnson and Baby Magic were among the roster of manufacturers whose products tested positive for the presence of formaldehyde and/or 1,4-dioxane, two chemical listed as probable carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Facts About Formaldehyde and 1,4-Dioxane

Neither formaldehyde nor 1,4-dioxane is an ingredient in baby care products but rather a consequence of the manufacturing and storage process. It was found that, when many of these products sit on the shelves for prolonged periods of time, certain ingredients can break down and form into these potentially carcinogenic byproducts. 

While the levels were only found in trace amounts, many health advocates were concerned that accumulation can result over time, much in the same way as lead or asbestos poisoning.

How to Tell If a Product Contains Formaldehyde or 1,4-Dioxine

Since formaldehyde and 1.4-dioxine are not ingredients of baby care products, you need to assess what other chemicals may be present that can lead to their formation. Product expiration dates provide little help since there is no set time by which these chemical reactions can occur.

Products that are more likely to contain trace amounts of formaldehyde include those with the following ingredients:

  • quaternium-15
  • DMDM hydantoid
  • imidazolindinyl urea
  • diazolidinyl urea

Products likely to contain traces of 1,4-dioxane would contain ingredients such as:

  • PEG-100
  • stearate
  • sodium laureth sulfate
  • polyethylene
  • cetereath-20

Some of the companies that sell products containing these ingredients include American Girl, Aveeno, Baby Magic, Barbie, Dora the Explorer, Huggies, L'Orea, and Suave, among others.

What to Do If You Are a Parent

So here's the question: should you toss all of your baby products and shop for more natural toiletries for your child? That is certainly a decision you may decide to make.

For its part, the FDA has decided not to pull these products from the shelves because levels of contaminants were considered too low. With that being said, Johnson & Johnson took the initiative to remove any chemicals that may break down into formaldehyde and 1,4-dioxine from their baby products (although small amounts may still remain in certain adult products).

A Word From Verywell

It's important for parents to understand that these findings are only meant to raise awareness about the ingredients in their baby care products. While there is no evidence that adverse health effects will occur by using certain shampoos or cleansers, there are also no studies looking into the long-term effect of repeated exposure in infants or toddlers.

Education and a mindful stance are usually the best bets when making decisions about the products you choose to buy. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics offers a website that provides in-depth details about not only these products but other personal care items of potential concern.

Each product is given a rating with a complete list of the carcinogenic, allergenic, or toxic ingredients they contain.

Get the facts. Read the labels. These are always good places to start.

Sources:

Division of Earth and Life Sciences: National Research Council. "Review of the Formaldehyde Assessment in the National Toxicology Program - 12th Report on Carcinogens." Washington D.C.: National Academies Press. 2014.

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