Natural & Organic Doesn’t Always Mean Safe & Healthy
January 24, 2023
By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director
When it comes to choosing products for our families, there’s a growing sense that those made with natural and organic materials are better—in virtually every way. While that’s often true, buyers should beware. Automatically accepting organic and natural ingredients as always safe and preferable can sometimes lead to dangerous outcomes.
Everyone likes to use poison ivy as a prime example of why nature isn’t always safe. But clearly you’re not buying PI cream for the kids. More to the point? Ingredients like the grain derivatives and bioactive compounds now appearing in skincare products intended for infants and even newborns.
Hydrolyzed wheat protein sounds harmless, but it actually has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in very young children. Given the rise of gluten sensitivities and conditions like celiac disease, caution around unnecessary topical products that contain wheat seems wise. While largely safe for tolerant older kids and adults, using them on newborns and babies whose allergy profiles are still unknown can be risky. They aren’t being eaten, but they are being absorbed through the skin.
Grain-based ingredients can also be of concern when it comes to babies. Certain strains of quinoa, for example, have shown high levels of allergic reactivity in tests. And materials like oats and oat extracts are subject to cross-contamination in processing plants where grains with and without gluten often co-mingle.
Another issue is the use of pharmacologically active ingredients like pansy and yucca extracts. Pansy contains cyclotide proteins that pose an allergy risk and are so bioactive they’re being investigated for use in medications. Similarly, yucca extract has blood-thinning properties and contains saponins that exhibit steroidal effects. No regulations currently govern how such herbal ingredients are to be used, and no standards exist for purity or concentration. So it’s a good precautionary approach to leave them off your baby.
While ingredients like these have valid uses, their natural and organic origins shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a blanket indication of safety, especially when it comes to infants. Parents should always scrutinize labels carefully and reject any product with ingredients they haven’t researched. If you’re interested in natural or organic approaches, the most natural—and safest—strategy is not to use anything at all on your baby’s skin unless it’s absolutely necessary. Considering babies’ notoriously beautiful skin, this is almost never. Plenty of parents do nothing but rinse babies with water from time to time, dab breast milk on rashes, and use organic olive oil for dry spots. It’s a ridiculously simple approach that avoids potential problems.
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