When you change your baby’s diaper, you’re doing it to look after them and keep them clean and healthy, but what if the diapers you use are causing more harm than good? Just like femcare products, conventional disposable diapers can be filled with undisclosed toxic chemicals that both mothers and babies are being exposed to. But what exactly are these potentially toxic chemicals? What health issues can they lead to? And how do we avoid these?
A study into the safety of disposable diapers found samples containing some 60 dangerous chemicals. The average baby will use between 6,500 and 10,000 diapers before they’re potty trained – so when accounting for the number of disposable diapers used during their first few years, some babies could be being exposed to excessive levels of chemicals from their diapers. Which begs the question: are diapers bad for babies? And if so, why are diapers bad?
What is a disposable diaper made of?
Most disposable diapers are made up of chemicals and synthetic materials — similar to sanitary pads. Here’s what most disposable diapers are made of:
- Outer lining commonly is made of polyethylene film (plastic)
- Inner lining usually is polypropylene (another plastic)
- Absorbent core tends to be wood pulp (that has been bleached with chlorine), and super absorbent polymers, such as sodium polyacrylate
- Some conventional disposable diapers may also have dyes and perfumes
In addition to these materials, a study published by Reproductive Toxicology found harmful chemicals in most conventional diapers, maternity pads, and sanitary pads. These chemicals include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and phthalates.
What’s the concern with chemicals in diapers?
It is estimated that every day a baby will use 6-8 disposable diapers for the first 3 years of their life. That’s a lot of diapers! The study by Anses, France’s National Health Agency, stated that the chemicals posed significant threats to babies because of their prolonged contact with babies’ skin. In other words, the main issue is the sensitive body parts diapers come in contact with, the high absorption rate of the genitalia, and long-term exposure of chemicals. We NEED a thorough investigation of chemicals found in diapers, and the ways they could be putting our children at risk.
The Effects of Chemicals to Avoid in Diapers
Exposure to VOCs, increases the risk of brain impairment, asthma, disabilities, certain cancers, and the proper functioning of the reproductive system. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some VOCs are even suspected of causing cancer in humans (EPA.gov).
Phthalates are used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They have been linked to a variety of health concerns including endocrine disruption, diabetes, some cancers, birth defects, impacts to the heart and reproductive systems,
Sodium Polyacrylate — Super Absorbent Polymer
Sodium polycarbonate is a super absorbent chemical compound that is used in the fillers of many disposable diapers that you may recognize as gel-like crystals. It helps prevent leakage by absorbing fluids and creates surface tension in the lining. This chemical is thought to be linked to skin irritations and respiratory problems. In fact, this chemical was removed from tampons due to toxic shock syndrome concerns. As it has only been used in diapers for the last two decades, there is not yet research on the long-term health effects of sodium polyacrylate on babies.
TBT is found in the diaper’s core to act as an antifungal. According to the EPA, this toxic pollutant is extremely harmful to sea life and causes endocrine (hormonal) disruptions. Additionally, according to research published by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, TBT can trigger genes that promote the growth of fat cells, causing obesity in humans. Overall, the effects of TBT on humans aren’t clear and need to be studied more.
Chlorine and Dioxins
Some diapers are bleached with chlorine for that pearly white color. But why is chlorine bad for babies? Chlorine is a chemical known to emit the byproduct dioxin. According to the EPA, dioxins are among the most toxic chemicals known to science and are listed as highly carcinogenic chemicals. The World Health Organization say that, exposure to dioxins may cause skin reactions and altered liver function, as well as impairments to the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive functions. This is why all Natracare products are proudly Chlorine-Free.
Are scented diapers bad for babies? Well, fragrances or perfumes are made with a mysterious combination and quantity of chemicals are found in conventional ones. Since this mixture is considered a trade secret, it is not required by law to be transparent – ‘secret recipe’ sounds exciting until you realize it could be harmful to your baby.
What can we do?
For the safety of our little ones, we can opt for brands that are proud to share everything in their diapers. Use safe disposable diapers that are dye-free, perfume-free and chlorine-free. Choose brands that are totally transparent with what’s in their products, so you know you can trust them.
Just like period pads, you can also get reusable diapers! If you’re eager to move to a safer zero waste lifestyle, research what options are available to you.
Use resources such as EWG’s Guide to Healthy Childcare and Made Safe’s Healthy Baby Guide to make more informed, conscious purchases for our families is another way we can avoid these chemicals of concern and find disposable diaper alternatives.
Beyond the diapers, we can also decrease exposure and soften our ecological footprint with biodegradable, and all natural baby wipes.
What’s your favorite source for information on safe, healthy products for your family? Let us know in the comments below!