01.Personal care products
There’s a booming market in products tailored to babies and toddlers, but CHOICE has found many are simply unnecessary.
We took a look into products targeted at young children (or, more likely, their parents), including:
Being the parent of a baby or toddler can be an anxious time, especially when it’s your first. Parents are barraged with a huge amount of information about what’s good and not so good for their baby. While most understand the basic taboos, a trip to the supermarket can throw the seeds of doubt into even the best-educated parent.
Products targeted at little ones can be found in many supermarket sections, from baby yoghurts in the dairy fridge to sunscreen and body lotion in the personal care aisle. For almost every adult product there’s invariably a “baby” or “child” version sitting next to it on the shelf, often at a price premium. While some are appealing, it can be difficult to tell which ones are worth the extra expense. And with the amount of marketing hype, guilty parents could be convinced these products are a “must have” when in fact, they’re not.
With so many of these baby and toddler products now available, it’s impossible to examine them all in depth. CHOICE tracked down some of the more common ones found in supermarkets to help you decide which are worth it and which should be left on the shelves.
While it might be easy to dismiss cute, mini-sized tubes featuring cartoon characters, make no mistake: children’s toothpaste is necessary. For children 18 months to six years, the Australian Dental Association (ADA) recommends no more than a pea-sized smear of low-fluoride toothpaste on their brush. Adult-strength toothpaste is not suitable for children under the age of six (unless you live in a non-fluoridated area where it’s recommended to use adult-strength toothpaste).
Children’s toothpaste contains considerably less fluoride than the adult version, and too much fluoride can cause dental fluorosis, a condition where the teeth’s enamel surface appears mottled. Most dental fluorosis is very mild and doesn’t damage teeth, and occurs only during tooth development in early childhood, so older children and adults aren’t at risk.
Fluorosis levels have halved since the early 1990s, with the wider use of low-fluoride children’s toothpastes and recommendations that children use only very small amounts of it.
Little mouths need little toothbrushes. The toothbrush should be:
- easy to hold
- have a small head and soft, flexible bristles that don’t irritate.
Once your baby starts sprouting teeth (usually from six months) it’s a good idea to start getting them used to a small toothbrush but, according to the ADA recommendations, you shouldn’t use toothpaste until they’re about 18 months old.
“Aloe-infused organics” and “soothing naturals” are just two baby moisturiser descriptions we found on supermarket shelves. One lavender-scented body wash even claims to help your baby sleep better. Despite such appealing claims, soft baby and toddler skin generally doesn’t need moisturising, according to dermatologist Dr Phillip Artemi and pharmacist Tina Aspres, who co-authored the recently released book, All About Kids’ Skin. They say babies and toddlers with normal skin don’t need soap or moisturiser. “Unless a baby or toddler suffers with a skin condition, such as eczema or dermatitis, skin care should be very simple,” says Artemi.
Our experts go on to say that “natural” or “organic” products aren’t necessarily better than a synthetic product or any less likely to irritate. Some of these products contain an array of essential oils that can be irritating and allergenic. And to be called “natural”, says Artemi, products may only contain as little as 1% natural ingredients.
When it comes to your little one’s skin, less is definitely more. A warm bath is all that’s needed, but for babies, a simple bath oil and for toddlers, a soap free wash, can be added. Following a short, warm bath, the skin should be patted dry. If you really want, you can apply a fragrance-free moisturiser such as sorbolene cream while the skin is still moist, but it’s not necessary.
As a rule, it’s best not to use heavily fragranced shampoos intended for adults on your baby or toddler. Choose simple shampoos that are fragrance-free and less likely to cause irritation when washing hair. Our experts say parents should opt for a baby-specific shampoo as these tend to have milder, lower-foaming surfactant formulas that are designed to not burn or sting the eyes. Baby shampoos are also oft en free of frothing agent’s sodium laurel sulfate or ammonium laurel sulfate, which can dry out hair and skin. But don’t overdo it; scalps produce very little oil until puberty so it’s not necessary to wash children’s hair very often.
You don’t need a special sunscreen for kids and there’s little evidence to suggest there’s a safety issue with most of a sunscreen’s active ingredients. Sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – physical blockers that leave white marks on the skin. However, they are often in nanoparticle form in sunscreens, making the product transparent but still able to block the sun’s harmful UV rays.
Currently there’s no legal requirement for manufacturers to disclose their use of nanoparticles on product labels, despite some recent scientific opinion recommending caution around exposure to nanoparticles. While this may become an issue, it shouldn’t be a deterrent from using sunscreen, as whatever the risk from nanoparticles may be, currently what we know is that the risk from overexposure to the sun is greater.
It’s recommended young babies (under six months) are better kept out of the sun entirely, especially in the middle of the day, using hats, clothes and shade. If you occasionally need to use sunscreen on babies, only apply it to small areas of skin that can’t be otherwise covered.
For babies and toddlers, our experts prefer sunscreens that contain physical blockers only and are free of chemical absorbers of UVA and UVB, fragrance and PABA. But these are not always marketed as children’s sunscreens – Eau Thermale’s Avene SPF 30, Hamilton Sensitive and Ego Sunsense Low Irritant are examples. And not all “specially formulated for kids” sunscreens are free of them. “Hamilton Toddler states it has the lowest levels of sunscreen active in any Hamilton product, as well as being fragrance-free and PABA-free, but it still contains chemical absorbers,” says Artemi.
Other sunscreens marketed specifically for toddlers, infants and children may simply use fewer possible irritants in the cream base.