Read the Label Before You Run the Bath

The evening baby bath routine is one of the simple pleasures of life for young parents. My three girls loved playing in the water. And seeing their unfettered delight in splashing in the water calmed me down after harried days. Now that sweet ritual has a cloud hanging over it: hazardous baby bath products.


Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported on a study that found that infants and toddlers who used baby lotions, shampoos, and powders have high concentrations of phthalates in their bodies. Phthalates are known to disrupt hormone functioning and can cause abnormalities in sexual organs and infertility, particularly in boys.


The study’s findings were stark:

  • The children who used baby lotions, shampoos and powders had 4 times the levels of phthalates as those whose parents did not use those products on them.
  • The 3 phthalates found in the highest levels were shown in a 2006 study to lead to reduced testosterone levels in newborns.


This is frightening news for parents. We have enough to worry about--and feel guilty about--what with ensuring that our children are kind, learn to share, and do their homework. Now add to that list the concern that the nightly bath routine may cause our children to experience the heartbreak of infertility or worse, cancer.


But worry we must because the government is failing to do anything. The EU has laws banning various phthalates, but here in the US, manufactures of consumer products don’t even have to include them on their labels. When NRDC’s public health specialists are trying to identify phthalates, we have to send products to a lab and pay for elaborate testing.


The EPA is in no better position. NRDC recently petitioned the agency to take action on phthalates in household air fresheners (see our report), but the agency admitted it had no idea what was in these products.


We are continuing to put pressure on manufacturers, retailers, and government agencies to protect consumers from these dangerous toxins. In the meantime, what’s a parent to do?


  1. Always look for a list of ingredients. It’s true, you may need a degree in chemistry to fully understand all the items listed, but the very fact that the company is willing to list its ingredients is a good sign.
  2. Look for unscented products. Phthalates are commonly used to carry scents. And manufacturers can sometimes hide the presence of phthalates simply by using the word “fragrance.” If you like your baby to smell like roses, look for shampoos and lotions that use essential oils.
  3. Use your consumer muscle. Many products include a phone number on the packaging: Use it. If there is a shampoo you like, but you are worried about its safety, call the manufacturers and ask them if there are phthalates in their products. When manufacturers start hearing from consumers, they do take notice.


And frankly, I’m worried about the lotion I use too. We need to get to the bottom of this.