If you’re a new mom or mom-to-be, you may already swap out junk food for nutrient-rich produce or reach for a jug of hormone-free milk. But you may not have considered that opting for cleaner pregnancy and baby body care products also supports your child’s long-term health. “As the body’s first line of defense, skin is uniquely designed to identify invaders like unhealthy bacteria and to mobilize the entire immune response,” says Kim Walls, a Los Angeles–based nutritionist, clinical aesthetician, and natural skin care formulator.
Protecting your and your baby’s “skin immunity” starts with choosing natural and organic plant-based products to prevent toxins from entering the bloodstream. Some research shows that ingredients a pregnant woman puts in and on her body may cross over the placental barrier, impacting the baby even before birth. The body absorbs topical products, and young children, whose skin is five times thinner than adults’, are even more susceptible to potential allergens and carcinogens such as 1,4-dioxane and quaternium-15 commonly found in body products. Avoid these and other common body care chemicals, while nurturing your and your child’s skin, with this advice.
Sniff out fragrance
Mom and baby need to avoid synthetic fragrances—which, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), have been found in infants’ umbilical cord blood and are linked to conditions such as skin irritation and chemical-induced immune system damage.
Even “natural” fragrance can be a concern because the term “fragrance” indicates only that a product may contain any number of 3,100 natural or synthetic ingredients. Pregnant women also should avoid many essential oils—including basil, rosemary, and cinnamon—which can have adverse effects on a pregnant woman’s body or the unborn baby. Opt instead for fragrance-free personal care products.
Moisturize and massage
One key task you can do for your little one’s skin (and your own) is keep it hydrated. “Babies are prone to dry skin, and dry skin is prone to infection and long-term damage,” says Walls. She recommends applying water-based moisturizers, such as those with aloe vera, and oil-based moisturizers, packed with essential fatty acids and gentle carrier oils like olive or jojoba, immediately after bathtime when skin already has plenty of water. “If skin is very dry, apply water- based moisturizers followed by oil-based moisturizers or serums at least three times per day, followed by heavier creams or balms to seal skin, helping it maintain a healthy water level on the skin surface.”
Beyond what you apply to your baby’s skin, think about how you apply it, says Walls. “At this stage, one of the most important function of skin care products is to support touch.” Massage your little one’s body as you apply lotions, salves, and serums. Research shows skin-to-skincontact not only makes babies happier, but also regulates heart rate, breathing, blood sugar, and allergies.
Watch the bottom line
If you already consider the purity of a diaper cream, you’re off to a great start— but how about the diaper itself? Conventional disposable diapers contain dioxins, a group of chemicals that result from bleaching paper products. Although past research suggests that the amount of dioxins found in household products, including diapers, is likely too low to cause human harm, the Environmental Protection Agency released a report confirming that it only takes a trace amount of dioxin to put people at risk of skin and immune system ailments. To be safe, choose cloth diapers or USDA Organic disposable diapers.
Examine your home
The same EWG study that found toxic fragrances in infants’ cord blood also found bisphenol A (BPA), commonly used in baby bottles and sippy cups. And a study from the University of California, San Francisco, that analyzed 268 pregnant women’s bodies found that nearly all carried multiple chemicals, including BPA and phthalates, which have been linked to various health issues, including diabetes, endocrine system damage, obesity, cancer, and hyper- activity. Eliminate as many plastics from the home as you can—even if they are labeled BPA-free, they often leach other estrogenlike chemicals that can throw off hormonal balance, according to a 2011 study. And choose plant-based cleaners that clearly list all ingredients; full disclosure isn’t currently required under government regulations.