Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” baby body wash, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.
Baby body soap sales are on the up – in 2017, the industry was valued at 1.27 billion. We know that we need the right product that actually works to get our babies clean…but, what else is happening when it’s getting made and once it’s washed down the drain?
What to Be Wise On:
From playing in the sandbox to getting pasta sauce all over their tiny faces and hands, babies are excellent at getting dirty. And, because we want to keep our mini-me’s out of harm's way, we’re all about getting clean with the products that are safe for our babies’ bodies and the planet (for their future!). Enter baby body wash. Unfortunately, some of the raw materials in baby body wash can contribute to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and pose harm to marine life. We’re here to help get those sensitive little ones squeaky clean and take care of the planet, too.
The Factors to Consider:
Tsk, tsk, tsk, palm oil. Seems like we just can’t get enough of it! This ingredient is in everything from food, to detergents, to cosmetics, and sometimes even biofuel. In fact, more than half of all packaged products Americans consume contain palm oil. And, with no surprise, it can also be found in baby body soap. In personal care products, palm oil creates those suds we associate with getting squeaky clean. Unfortunately, palm oil production is also associated with biodiversity loss and deforestation. The crop requires humidity, typically found in areas that are carbon-rich and dense with biodiversity, like tropical forests. Because of this, almost all oil palm today grows in plantations that were once moist, tropical forests, mostly in countries in Southeast Asia and South America. In fact, approximately 80% of global oil palm is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia alone. A study on where oil palm plantations have replaced forests showed that 45% of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia and 31% in South America were once forests. TLDR: if possible, steer clear of baby bath soap products that contain palm oil to avoid the cutting down of forests.
In skincare, the most commonly used sulfates are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES). Sulfates are a kind of surfactant, which is used to clean skin and create the foam we know and love. Unfortunately, sulfates can also cause skin irritation and roughness, which is not what we want for our little ones. A study in which mussels (like, the mollusk and family-friend to clams) were exposed to SLS showed limited filtration capacity and stunted physiological development (including growth and reproduction). Not so good. When we wash our babies’ skin with a body wash that contains sulfates, we’re not only potentially causing skin irritation and roughness, but when that wash is whisked away down the drain, it could have some unintended consequences on marine life, like mollusks. No, thanks!
Alternative cleaners to palm oil and sulfates include other oils and fats, like shea butter. Shea butter is a tree crop commonly grown in sub-Saharan African countries, like Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Shea butter has been used for millennia in African countries as a personal care product and has only recently (in the past 60 years) gained popularity outside the continent. Shea doesn’t have the same negative fertilizer use and land use environmental impacts as alternative vegetable oils (cough, cough, palm oil). Unfortunately, in comparison to palm oil, shea is expensive due to its small production scale. If this alternative to palm oil reached a scalable capacity, then it likely wouldn’t be without the same negative environmental and social impacts associated with palm oil. A bummer, we know. With the agricultural systems we have now, shea is only an alternative on a small, niche scale.
Some synthetic musks, also known as fragrances, contain phthalates. While they are often included to give body wash an enjoyable smell, they also have shown to be hormone disruptors. Phthalates can mimic the body’s natural endocrine system that’s responsible for regulating our reproductive organs, and growth and development. This means genital malformations and testicular cancer in males, and infertility in females. For the safest alternative, we suggest going fragrance-free and keeping an eye out for phthalates!
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A Few Takeaways:
When washing your baby’s skin, steer clear of products containing palm oil and sulfates. Sulfates, when washed down the drain, can have some unintended consequences on marine life. Alternative cleaners like shea butter can be a good go-to, but they’re not a long-term viable option at scale, so it’s up to you if you want to put your money there. When considering your next baby body wash purchase, opt for an option that avoids fragrances – that newborn baby smell is good enough for us!
Common Questions We Get:
“Which soap is best for a newborn baby?”
At Finch, we definitely don’t claim to be experts on what’s best healthwise for babies. We can tell you, though, that according to a 2011 study, pediatric and dermatologic communities haven’t reached a consensus on the best way to clean your newborn. Ask your doctor to find out what’s right for you!
“Is baby wash biodegradable?”
If a product is biodegradable, it means that it can break down into organic matter, typically in a three-to-six-month window, under the right conditions. However, just because a product is “biodegradable,” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on the environment. If you’re looking for a more sustainable option, opt for baby washes that are free from palm oil, fragrances, and sulfates.
“What is the most natural baby wash?”
When you say natural, do you mean coming from nature or less environmentally impactful? If you mean the former, existing in nature is not mutually inclusive with being safe for humans or good for the planet. Alternatively, consider baby washes that are free from palm oil, fragrances, and sulfates.