EWG’s Healthy Living: Quick Tips to Safer Diapers

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2020

In their first year alone, a baby will wear an estimated 2,500 disposable diapers. When buying diapers, parents are likely to consider absorbency, fit and comfort as the most important features. But recent scientific research highlights the fact that the ingredients and materials used to make the diapers may be just as important, if not more so: The diaper itself could potentially harm a child’s health.

Our skin is a dynamic organ that develops and matures over time. A newborn’s skin is significantly thinner and more permeable than that of an adult and can more readily absorb chemicals. The skin in the area around a baby’s genitals is even thinner and more susceptible to exposure to potentially harmful chemicals, such as dyes, chlorine and phthalates, all of which may be found in diapers.

A 2019 study by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, or ANSES, tested 23 diapers from bestselling products on the French market. Researchers found a number of volatile organic compounds, phthalates, formaldehyde, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Several of the chemicals detected exceeded levels the agency deems a risk to infant health.

Exposure to chemicals at an early age can have serious and long-lasting health implications. According to the World Health Organization, exposure to hazardous chemicals, air pollutants and pesticides can lead to irreversible damage and impair children’s physical and cognitive development. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, can damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system. In addition, some VOCs, pesticides and formaldehyde are linked to cancer, and some phthalates can interfere with hormones that can affect proper growth and development.

Unlike menstrual products, baby diapers are not classified as medical devices, so they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The diaper industry is regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which does not require diaper manufacturers to disclose their ingredients or test their products or materials for a variety of chemicals to ensure safety. The agency requires that baby diapers be tested for lead.

There are a lot of diaper options on the market: reusable and disposable, scented and unscented, and many other types. Because of the lack of adequate regulations and ingredient disclosure in the diaper industry, and the frequent use of potentially harmful chemicals, parents may find it hard to figure out which options are best for their little ones and the environment.

EWG’s comprehensive Guide to Safer Diapers outlines what every parent or caregiver should know before buying another diaper. EWG has also added diapers to the growing list of products that are EWG VERIFIED®, certifying that they meet our strictest standards for health and transparency. EWG VERIFIED diapers are free from our extensive list of ingredients and materials linked to harm, and all ingredients must be disclosed.

Quick Tips for Choosing Safer Diapers

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