DoraBubbleBathAs you are running warm water to get your 3-year-old ready for bed, would you use the bubble bath with Dora or Elmo that states clearly on the front: “Mild Formula”, “Dye-Free”,”Hypo-allergenic”, “Paraben Free”, “Pediatrician and Dermatologist Tested”? Maybe. Consider that your child probably spends almost 30 mins soaking in the bath water — did you know their little bodies will absorb some of the toxins that is in that bath water?

It appears by the wording on the label that the bubble bath is harmless for children BUT consumers are paying attention and not easily manipulated by label claims.

These products are representative of many, many products on the market and are an example of why we need to read beyond the front label.

Johnson & Johnson has been the “trusted” brand for baby care and only recently committed to removing toxic chemicals from their baby products by the end of 2013. The greatest concern for me is why they would ever create products for babies that have ingredients that cause cancer.

I trust the Sesame Street brand and love that Sesame Street provides educational programming showing cultural diversity and acceptance of everyone. I especially love that the subject of breastfeeding was shared with children as the norm in 1977 as Buffy explains breastfeeding to Big Bird. I might go to products that appear to be “endorsed” by Sesame Street assuming that they would only affiliate with companies with shared values for our children’s health and wellness.

This type of labeling is about sales. Often labels over emphasize the positives in order to minimize the negatives. In this case the product implies that it is safe by stating that it has been tested by Pediatricians and Dermatologists. It’s dye free and tear free so there can’t be anything harmful in the bubble bath, right?

Skin is our largest organ and is highly permeable. Products that are applied to our skin (or in the water that you submerge your child in) will end up in our bloodstream. When you EAT foods with some toxins, enzymes in your help to break it down and flush it out of your body. If products are APPLIED to skin then they are absorbed straight into your bloodstream and organs. Many ingredients used in body care products — including baby shampoo, lotions and body wash — have KNOWN endocrine disruptors and may even contain chemicals linked to cancer. Perhaps the exposure seems small as some ingredients are only listed as “moderate hazard” on the the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database BUT please consider the cumulative exposure to several harmful ingredients in each product over several baths and then add all the other pesticides and toxins that your child is exposed to. It can be frightening — and it should be. Here’s why:

The Elmo and Dora Bubble Bath is for children “3 and over”. Here are the ingredients in the Elmo Bubble bath:

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Not all these ingredients are concerning but do we even really know what these ingredients are?

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is commonly used and is a known irritant that may also cause organ system toxicity. To make thing more confusing, it can also be listed under almost 10 other names. Sodium Laureth Sulfate also has a high risk of being contaminated with known human carcinogens (see Contamination Concerns).

As shown on the above label is the use of “perfum” or “perfume” as a single ingredient. Any number of ingredients can be hidden under this umbrella term used by manufacturers as they are NOT required by the FDA to disclose their ingredients–many of which have been documented to have toxic hormonal effects on the body and are transferred through breastmilk to a nursing baby.

The companies that get it right

Recently I discovered Dolphin Organics and their labeling is brilliant! They have found a way to make it very easy for consumers to know what they are purchasing–no misleading phrases–just a very simple (and effective) way to let consumers quickly know if the ingredient (which for most of us are not familiar) is organic, natural or artificial (see the example of their product label).

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Another label that recently caught my attention was for Attitude products. The graphic designer in me wants to see a clearer connection of the words “carcinogen” and “free” but the label did get my attention and I appreciate how clearly they get to the point that many moms want to know: Does this product contain toxins?

What do you think? Is the importance of reading labels catching on or do most consumers ignore it?