5 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Kids’ Bath & Body Products

Most parents are keenly aware that we need to encourage our children to eat a healthful diet. We want our children to be nourished, healthy and happy.

Did you know that 60% of what you put on your skin is absorbed directly into your bloodstream? So, what you put on your child’s skin is just as important as what they put in their mouth.

Most bath and body products marketed for children contain harsh, and even toxic, chemicals. Fortunately, there are more and more truly natural products coming onto the market, so parents do have more options.

Being able to read labels and correctly identify harmful ingredients is an important learning step for parents who want to ensure their kids are healthy and happy.

These are the top 5 ingredients I recommend parents avoid in kids’ bath and body products.

Fragrance (Parfum)

Fragrance is a blanket term for a mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants, including diethyl phthalate (a hormone disruptor). I put fragrance, also listed as parfum, at the top of my avoid list simply because it’s found in so many kids’ bath and body products (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, Aveeno, Burt’s Bees, etc.).

Manufacturers are not required to disclose what’s in their fragrance mixture as it’s considered a trade secret. These undisclosed fragrance mixtures have been connected to dermatitis, allergies, respiratory distress and possible effects on the reproductive system. If a brand isn’t disclosing what’s in their fragrance mixture, you should not use it on your child.

Sodium Lauryl and Laureth Sulfate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are ingredients that are commonly found in children’s products that we expect to be foamy (e.g., toothpastes, shampoos, body washes, hand soaps, etc.).

Both SLS and SLES are known to be strong skin irritants. If I accidentally wash my hands with a soap containing SLS, I typically experience an eczema outbreak. Many brands are becoming wise and replacing SLS with sodium coco sulfate, which appears to be a safer option.


Parabens aren’t found in as many products as they used to be, so I am always surprised when I pick up a bottle and I see one or more listed. You’ll find parabens listed as benzylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben.

The reason you need to avoid parabens is because they have hormone-disrupting qualities (growing children do not need their hormones disrupted). The Environmental Protection Agency and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Products have linked parabens to metabolic, developmental, reproductive and neurological disorders, as well as various cancers. A 2004 study found parabens in 19 of 20 breast cancer tumors.


“Wash your hands!” Moms across America chant this to their children day in and day out. Unfortunately, most common antibacterial hand soaps contain triclosan, another toxic ingredient that should be avoided. It’s toxic to both humans and our water supply.

Triclosan disrupts reproductive hormones and thyroid function. Studies also suggest that overuse of antibacterial soaps may promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The American Medical Association and American Academy of Microbiology recommend using plain soap and water for hand washing.


Methylisothiazolinone is a preservative commonly used in personal care products. It is listed among the most common sensitizers, irritants and causes of contact allergy. Lab studies on mammalian brain cells suggest that methylisothiazolinone may be neurotoxic.

I am horrified by how many products I am seeing methylisothiazolinone in. It’s found in not only personal care products, but also cleaning products. The most concerning product I have found methylisothiazolinone (listed as Neolone 950) in so far is Piggy Paint, a nail polish marketed to young girls.

Continue Researching Ingredients

While I consider these the 5 more critical ingredients to avoid, I wish I could say these are the only ingredients you need to watch out for in your child’s bath and body products. I often tell new parents, or parents who are just moving towards a more natural lifestyle, that if they can’t pronounce the ingredient, they should avoid it until they have time to research it.

If you need to find more information on a particular ingredient (or product), the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetics Database is an excellent resource to start with. Many products are rated for their toxicity level, but since many products are not listed, you can look up individual ingredients to determine their safety.

Have you researched the ingredients in your kids’ bath and body products?

Published on: April 01, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Chrystal Johnson
When Chrystal Johnson became a mom, she left her high-powered job in favor of a more integrated life. She is not only is the founder of Happy Mothering, but also Green Moms Media, the boutique PR firm works with the best natural products on the market to get their message out through green mom bloggers.
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Recent Comments

So what is a product that does not contain any of the above harsh additives?

I love the Shea Moisture Baby brand products for my LO. Another excellent natural baby product is California Baby. Both can be found at Target. :)

Love this! I never thought to check the kiddos bath products. One would just assume that companies would actually care about little baby skin – so sad we have to keep an eye out for such toxic nastiness in *children’s* products!

We found that making our own soap (usually natural meltable soap) is a great way to avoid these chemicals in the bath and have fun in the process.

Wow, thank you for outlining this. It is unfortunate that so many harmful ingredients all allowed in childrens products :(

Very informative! Thanks!

The first thing everyone needs to understand about product safety is that US regulations are almost meaningless. “Natural” and “organic” as label attributes do not mean that what’s inside is safe to eat or use, thanks to effective industry lobbying of the FDA (and every other federal oversight agency). Educating ourselves, learning how to research product claims and scientific studies, is a requirement if we want to prevent harming ourselves and our families with toxic junk. We’re up against powerful corporations – who, in our all-are-equal society are WAY more equal than the rest of us, thanks to the Supremes and their Citizens United decision – and we need to arm ourselves with knowledge, and vote with our wallets whenever we can by not buying toxicity.

Great post! It is crazy that these chemicals are accepted as ok ingredients for our kids. So many people are not even aware of what they put on their kids. I always encourage people to read ingredient labels and to use the EWG Cosmetic Database to find truly natural products.

They aren’t! And if I hadn’t started researching – while bored at work – when I was pregnant then I wouldn’t have become educated. It’s so easy to assume products are safe just because they’re allowed on the store shelf. Sadly that assumption just isn’t true.

I ended up learning more than I needed to about parabens when I used baby sunscreen on myself and ended up with a horrible allergic reaction. Allergy testing, steriods and a lot of time later we are a paraben free family….

Oh gosh! It’s sad that parabens are outlawed in the EU, but they’re still allowed in the US. I’m glad you realized was what was causing the allergic reaction!