Friday, 10 May 2013

Is it worth buying 'natural' skin products for kids?

The sun has been kind enough to have visited our cloudy shores several times now, which has prompted the annual buying in of sunscreen.  I used to try to only use products labelled as 'eco-friendly', 'organic' and 'natural' products on the kids, but the claims and counterclaims on such products left me wondering 'what's it all about really?'

For example, I was lucky enough to get an assignment last year testing an eco-brand skin lotion.  When I glanced at the ingredients, there was a list as long as my arm.  I don't know why this surprised me.  Perhaps I had naively assumed that the 'organic' label also meant less complex, perhaps a blob of beeswax here and a drop of rose oil there.  Since I was writing the piece for The Green Parent magazine I wanted to be really thorough and not just make assumptions, so I got online and looked up every single ingredient on that list.  It took a looong time.  The result though was that even the most complicated, synthetic sounding ingredients had been extracted from natural sources, and every single one was FDA approved for human consumption.  Since your skin absorbs everything you put on it and this stuff can end up in your blood stream, the teacher at my baby massage class's mantra was 'don't put anything on their skin that you wouldn't put in their mouth'.  Finding that all the ingredients were 'food grade' was therefore a pleasant surprise.

I don't have time to do this for every product I use, so like everyone I rely on the broader claims made on products.  If the product says it is organic, I believe that it will be made from organic ingredients.  However, in the course of researching the above mentioned article I found out that while lots of products are what you would expect them to be, lots more that are sold in major chain stores only have to contain 70% organically sourced ingredients in order to claim to be organic.  According to Channel 4's website http://www.channel4.com/4beauty/make-up-skin-care/skin-care/cosmetic-label-symbols-what-they-mean an exception is if they have signed up to carry the soil association logo, in which case the minimum is 95% organic ingredients.  'Against animal testing' doesn't mean the product and it's ingredients haven't been tested on animals, only that the manufacturer is working towards ending testing, or funds research into alternatives, so llok out for a clear 'not tested on animals' symbol. 'Fairtrade' - as with organic, this means that a percentage of the product is made of Fairtrade ingredients, but not necessarily all of it.

With so many conflicting claims and the high cost associated with some eco brands, I've become quite choosy about what I buy.  I tried a few eco-sunscreens, but have yet to find one that is as nice to use as my current non-organic brand.  My eco bath bubbles and soap seem to work well for the kids, and don't make my allergy-prone skin itch, so we're sticking with them.  My make-up definitely needs overhauling as I've gone for a brand that works well, without looking too closely at it's ethics or ingredients (funny how we can be so picky about what goes on our kids, while slathering ourselves with the gods only know what).  In general I think it is worth getting the eco-brands for my kids, but I'm sure manufacturers of traditional brands make every effort to comply with the strict guidelines about what they are allowed to add to products for children. My favourite solution is however to just make whatever I can myself, and cut out the middle man.  Looking for lovely safe massage oils for your family?  Plain carrier oils such as almond, with a couple of drops of a baby-safe essential oil such as lavender (if you're confident in using them) is perfect.  I think this is the same idea in the heads of an increasing army of artisan toiletries producers, and if that's up your street there are loads of great ways to make your finished products look really professional and also help to make them comply with product labeling regulations, such as this short-run label service http://www.selfadhesivelabels.com/printed-labels/health-beauty-labels/.

I'm not quite up to the standard of selling the stuff I make for my family, but I have got a few ideas for Christmas gifts that will work and smell nice knocking around, so if you know me and you get something pretty and smelly for Christmas, don't be surprised.  As I make no claims for any skill, I apologise in advance if you end up with something that is just pretty smelly instead (albeit with a nice bottle and clearly labelled ingredients!)

Disclaimer: this post is sponsored, but my rambling anecdotes are true and all my own :)