Children Exposed Daily to Personal Care Products With Chemicals Not Found Safe For Kids

EWG Buyers’ Guide Tells Parents What to Look For When Choosing Baby Products

WASHINGTON – From baby shampoo to diaper wipes, children are exposed to products every day containing chemicals that have not been assessed for their hazards to children, according to an investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) that exposes the lack of federal safety protections for children's personal care products. In an online survey of more than 3,300 parents, EWG found that the average child is exposed through body care products to 27 chemicals a day that have not been found safe for children, including some associated with cancer, brain and nervous system damage, allergies and hormone disruption. These chemicals are common ingredients in baby shampoo, lotion, diaper cream, sunscreen, and a number of other children's body care products. "Just because a shampoo or sunscreen is labeled 'children's' doesn't mean it's been tested and found safe for kids," said Jane Houlihan, EWG's vice president for research. "Children are more at risk than adults from many chemical hazards, but we have no special standards to protect them." Children are typically more vulnerable to chemicals than adults. A child’s skin is 30 percent thinner than an adult’s, and can absorb greater amounts of chemicals from the skin surface. They breathe in more air (and air pollution) relative to their weight than adults, and the blood-brain barrier that helps block chemicals from penetrating brain tissue is not fully formed until a baby is six months old. Even then, many chemicals cross this barrier and target developing brain tissue, with potential life-long harmful effects. EWG found:

  • 82% of children are exposed every week to one or more ingredients with the potential to harm the brain and nervous system.
  • 69% of children are exposed every week to one or more ingredients that may disrupt the hormone system, and 3.6% of children are exposed to ingredients with strong data linking them to cancer, including chemicals classified as known or probable human carcinogens.
  • 80% of children's products marked as gentle and non-irritating contain ingredients linked to allergies and skin or eye irritation according to government and industry sources.

The safety of baby products falls under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but unlike for drugs and food additives, the FDA has no power to require that cosmetics are tested for safety before they are sold. And due to other loopholes in the law, manufacturers are free to use any claim they wish, such as “safe” and “ultra mild,” without proof, and many do just that. “In the absence of adequate regulation, the manufacturers of children’s products should take responsibility to inform and protect their customers,” said Michael Passoff, associate director of the As You Sow Foundation, which supported the study. As You Sow represents shareholders in engaging publicly held companies to adopt more progressive social and environmental policies “Something shouldn’t be marketed to kids if it’s not proven safe for them,” said Passoff. Included in EWG’s analysis is a comprehensive Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products to help concerned parents decide which products are best for their children, and which ones to avoid available at It provides recommendations on choosing safer products instead of the many that contain ingredients of concern for children. "The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has long been concerned about childhood exposures to unsafe ingredients in cosmetics and body care products because the scientific evidence indicates that timing of exposure matters," said Janet Nudelman, coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. "EWG's childhood exposures survey helps us better understand the extent to which kids are being exposed to chemicals linked to hormone disruption, nervous system problems, cancer, reproductive risks, and allergies." Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) is introducing a bill that increases FDA regulation of personal care products and cosmetics, including baby products. This legislation would enable FDA to ensure that all ingredients contained in personal care products, including cosmetics, are safe for use by children and adults. Chemicals that cause cancer in people or animals would be banned from use in personal care products. Today, the FDA doesn’t require studies or testing to determine a product’s safety before a cosmetic product is put on the shelves of a pharmacy or grocery store. "The government's falling down on the job when children are being exposed to untested products and chemicals that are supposed to clean and protect them. Parents deserve a government they can trust to screen these products thoroughly and ensure their safety. You don't leave our kids' safety to the marketing gurus and cosmetics executives and hope for the best, " said Kerry.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s research on personal care products is available at As You Sow is a corporate social responsibility organization based in San Francisco that uses shareholder advocacy to promote safer and more transparent corporate practices.

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