Monday, October 25, 2010


We're trying to get petroleum out of our cars...So why are we still putting it on our kids' skin?

As an ND who works with pediatric patients, I am frequently asked about various skin conditions in kids. Lately I've been scanning product labels on pharmacy and grocery store shelves evaluating whether I'd feel comfortable recommending ANY of these familiar brand-name skin care products to my patients. Based on the ingredients listed, in most cases the answer is an overwhelming "no thanks". From fragrances to heavy metals to artificial preservatives and colours, most of the skin care products available for kids contain ingredients that at best give their livers extra things to detoxify and at worst can be irritating, allergenic, endocrine-disrupting or even carcinogenic.

In addition to fragrances and colors, here are three ingredients that should be avoided in your child's skin care routine (you'll find some healthier suggestions below):


First, let's look at "mineral oil", inaptly named as it actually contains  no minerals, this substance is also known as "paraffin oil" and "liquid petrolatum". As a toxicologist, I found the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) on mineral oil to be interesting, as this material is indicated to be a skin irritant that can cause dermatitis. "Less refined" versions of mineral oil are carcinogenic. Meanwhile, a quick check of the Environmental Working Group's (EWG's) "Skin Deep" cosmetics database highlights concerns of carcinogenicity, organ system toxicity and yet more skin-irritating qualities.


Similarly, petrolatum (yes, I have a petroleum-should-not-be-on-our-skin theme here) makes the grade as "expected to be toxic or harmful" and "a high human health priority" by Health Canada's Existing Substances List. Note that it has also been concealed in cosmetic products under the everything-goes, unregulated term, "fragrance".


Then there's the brand-name Vaseline or petroleum jelly. The historical account of the "discovery" of this industrial byproduct as a skin care aid is described on Unilever-Vaseline's web site. But petroleum jelly (yes, jelly made of petroleum) is a waterproof substance leftover from the refining of crude oil - it prevents water from escaping from the skin (hence famed as an emollient/moisturizer) and conversely prevents waterborne microorganisms from infecting the skin from the outside, indirectly allowing the body to go about healing itself (and we LOVE that the body does). These waterproofing properties , though, can be obtained through more nutritive and natural substances than an inexpensive byproduct of the oil refinery industry backed by cuddly marketing.

Petroleum-derived ingredients are known as "occlusive" - that they block the pores. Not ideal. Pores don't like being blocked. What's more, these materials can come pre-contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), which introduces to baby's skin care regime additional risk of carcinogenicity, allergenicity, and endocrine disruption. 

So what's the "bottom line" for baby's bottom?

First, healthy skin needs to be cleaned with water and a soft cloth, dried gently, and that's it. There is no medical requirement to apply an occlusive, waterproofing, drying, or other substance to baby's bottom between diaperings. Skin can just be skin. If desired though, there are many healthier alternatives to petroleum byproducts. Skip the tar sands and try a sprinkling of corn starch; organic olive oil; beeswax-, olive oil- or coconut oil-based balms with herbs like plantain, comfrey, or calendula; homeopathic combination cremes, etc.

If your child has a skin condition, such as eczema, diaper rash or candida, book a visit with your ND to determine the appropriate treatment. It's best not to suppress skin eruptions with corticosteroids. Rather, look for healing from the inside out. Skin concerns in babies often reflect an imbalance in the baby's diet (or mom's diet during breastfeeding), intestinal microflora (probiotics) and immune system.

Most of the time, some simple changes with the guidance of your ND are all it takes to do great things for your little one's health, skin included. Happy pampering!

-Dr. Liz


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