Personal Care Products: Children

by Ms. S on June 20, 2010

Please note that this section contains my personal notes from my readings on this topic.

  • 82% of children are exposed to one or more known human neurotoxins every week through their use of personal care products. Growth and development of the brain continues for many years after birth, leaving infants and young children uniquely sensitive to the effects of neurotoxic agents; in particular, the blood-brain barrier, which can protect the brain from many toxic chemicals, is not fully formed until a child is 6 months old (Grandjean 2006).
    • Examples of neurotoxins in children’s products include benzyl and isopropyl alcohols. Although limits have been set for these chemicals in food (FDA 2007), no mandatory limits are in place for cosmetics. The cosmetic industry safety panel found that the safety of benzyl alcohol in products that may be inhaled is unknown, and has not reviewed the safety of isopropyl alcohol. Survey findings show that products that may be used by children contain 82 neurotoxic chemicals altogether, raising particular concerns in light of recent warnings of evidence suggesting that developmental disabilities stemming from neurotoxic chemicals like those in children’s products can be considered a “silent pandemic in modern society” (Grandjean 2006).
    • Potentially neurotoxic agents with more limited toxicity data that are common in children’s products include the preservative methylisothiazolinone, which was found to damage developing neurons in a study that exposed rat brain cells repeatedly to very low levels of this substance (He 2006), raising concerns with respect to children’s exposures as well. (The Environmental Working Group)
  • 69% of children are exposed to one or more ingredients that can disrupt the hormone system every week through their use of personal care products. These ingredients include estrogen mimics called parabens, preservatives to which 91% of children are exposed according to our survey, and triclosan, a common antimicrobial chemical in liquid hand soap that can easily absorb into the body (Wolff 2007) and that preliminary studies show can disrupt thyroid growth hormones. Exposures to hormonally active chemicals are a particular concern considering some current health trends of significance in the U.S. population. For instance, 1 in 8 females in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and risks are increased by exposures to estrogenic chemicals. Exposures to hormonally active chemicals may influence time to puberty; over the last 4 decades, the age at which girls in the U.S. begin menstruating has declined by a few months, while the age at which girls begin to develop breasts has declined by 1 to 2 years (Steingraber 2007). Additionally, a survey of 25,862 Americans that found over 10% of the population to have abnormal thyroid function (Canaris 2000) raises concerns with respect to children’s widespread exposures to thyroid-disrupting chemicals in personal care products. (The Environmental Working Group)
  • 3.6% of children are exposed to one or more ingredients designated as known or probable human carcinogens by government health agencies, including coal tar in skin treatment shampoos, BHA in diaper cream, and silica in powders. Increasing rates of many childhood cancers, including leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and specific brain and nervous system cancers (Ries 2007), provide a clear cause for alarm regarding exposure of babies and children to chemicals linked to cancer. (The Environmental Working Group)

Importance of Non-Toxic Personal Care Products (The Environmental Working Group)

Children are not little adults. Their small, developing bodies receive greater exposures by weight than adults to contaminants in air, water, food, and everyday products. In addition, their immature metabolism and organ systems are typically less capable of fending off chemical assaults. And subtle damage to developing bodies that does not trigger immediate health effects may lead to disease later in life.

In its recently updated cancer risk guidelines, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explicitly acknowledges the importance of childhood exposures. The Agency concluded, after a review of 23 studies of early life exposures to cancer-causing chemicals, that carcinogens are typically 10 times more potent for babies than for adults, and that some chemicals are up to 65 times more powerful (EPA 2005). Despite these and other well-documented concerns regarding children’s sensitivity to harmful substances, no special protections exist regarding ingredients in personal care products marketed for babies and children. has helped me figure out which products to try.


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