Eurgh, no! Not that kind…. SHAMpoo. Honestly, what kind of a girl do you think I am?
I’ve just washed (‘bathed’ sounds all wrong for a process that left me soaked through… ‘water wrestled’?) I’ve just water-wrestled the boy into some semblance of cleanliness before bed and remembered a whole area of expenditure I left off ‘The Rules’ but eagle eyed readers pointed out – kiddy toiletries.
Shampoo… toothpaste… he has his own soap and bubbles too and some snazzy organic creams that we bought in the pregnancy shopping craze and never really used much after.
But the creams aside, the rest we’ve gone on buying. Can we stop? Is this one of the areas you really can’t cut corners on and have to spend money on?
To find out, I spoke to Dr Chris Flower, biologist and toxicologist, Director General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, father and grandfather.
Me: What are the main differences (if any) between the baby or child shampoos on the market and adult shampoos?
CF: The chief distinction is that ordinary shampoos, (what you’ve called ‘adult’ ones and I’d call ‘family shampoos’,) are often based on lauryl sulphates to clean the hair. These are effective but if they get into the eye they can sting.
Shampoos designed and marketed for babies and infants use milder detergents. They are more expensive and actually they don’t clean as well. But they don’t sting eyes as much, and infant hair doesn’t get that dirty anyway.
Me: So if you were to use family shampoo on a toddler and didn’t get it in their eyes, would there be any other dangers or disadvantages?
CF: Babies’ skin toughens up quite quickly, really. It only takes a few months before it is as good a barrier as an adult’s at keeping chemicals out and water in. So other than stinging the eyes, there’s no real reason you shouldn’t wash a two-year old’s hair with an ordinary family shampoo. You won’t need much and you must make sure it is washed out thoroughly.
Shampoos marketed at children, as opposed to babies, might have less detergent in them so that kids can splash around without stinging their eyes, but otherwise, they’re really only distinguished by things like packaging, or bright colour and attractive smell, designed to appeal to children.
Me: Clearly, some people choose organic because they think it is the right choice for their whole family. But are there any reasons why babies might need organic ingredients more than adults do?
CF: No, there is no research to suggest that children would need organic any more than adults. There are lots of great organic brands out there, but organic is a lifestyle choice, it is not to do with safety.
All products, however expensive and whoever they are aimed at, have to be proved safe for ‘normal use’ and also for ‘forseeable use’.
Now it’s perfectly foreseeable that someone might use an adult shampoo on their child, so that outcome has to be proven safe for it to go on the market. It might sting for a short while if it gets in their eyes, it might even taste awful if some splashes in their mouth, but it will not do them any harm.
Me: What about shower gels and soaps? Is there any reason not to use ordinary ones and opt for child and baby specific ones?
CF: Again, there are often milder detergents in the skin cleansers aimed at babies. Perfume can cause some people, adults or children, trouble, so children and baby products are often less highly perfumed.
In ordinary shower gels, scent is sometimes added to mask the smell of other ingredients, which sometimes smell rather unpleasant. Ones for babies and children might use perfumes that wash out quickly, only masking the smell while the product is being used rather than staying on and perfuming the skin afterwards.
But previous generations survived perfectly well with ordinary soap and water. If you use your common sense, and don’t use a heavily scented shower gel on your child, you will be fine.
As long as make sure it is rinsed thoroughly, taking particular care of creases on elbows, for example, that might be missed, it will do your child absolutely no harm.
Me: What about toothpastes: are ordinary, adult toothpastes unsuitable for toddlers?
CF: That’s an interesting one, because there’s a difference of opinion in the academic world.
Fluoride protects against decay and research indicates that there needs to be at least 1,000 parts per million for it to be effective. The maximum allowed in cosmetic products (that’s everything not specially prescribed by a dentist) is 1,500 parts per million.
Now one concern is that too much fluoride causes fluorosis, which is a slight mottling of the teeth so that you get little white dots on the surface. Structurally, the teeth are very strong because of the fluoride, there is nothing wrong with them, so fluorosis is purely a cosmetic issue.
Fluorosis is more likely to arise from excess fluoride absorbed through the blood, not through the surface of the teeth, so to avoid fluorosis, basically, you have to avoid swallowing too much fluoride. That’s why children’s toothpaste will say on the tube, “always supervise brushing and only use a pea sized amount”.
But there’s another body of thought that says you should avoid fluorosis by decreasing the fluoride levels in the toothpaste itself.
So some brands of children’s toothpaste only have 500 parts per million. Others will have the same levels as any other, ordinary, family toothpaste and the only difference is the design, packaging, nice flavours and colours.
Every type of toothpaste will say how much fluoride it has in it, so that you can check for yourself. It will read: ‘x’ ppmF [‘x’ being the parts per million of fluoride in the product]
Both bodies of thought are equally respected. So you could use ordinary toothpaste on a toddler without worry. Just teach them to spit it out so that aren’t swallowing the fluoride. That’s the most important thing. Actually, the irony is that the childrens’ toothpastes that are made to taste nicely of fudge or strawberries could be more likely to be swallowed.
Me: Are there any real ‘nasties’ in the ingredients of some toiletries that parents should watch out for when buying for their child?
CF: There are one or two ingredients that are used in some products and which aren’t advised for usage on particular age groups.
But the good thing is that products have to be clearly labelled as being ‘not suitable’ for that age group if they contain those ingredients. So you will always be able to tell.