7 Tips for Minimizing Toxins in your Baby’s Closet

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Nowadays, it seems almost commonplace to find out everyday products we use on our babies contain toxic ingredients. Clothing is no exception ... 

The Clean Label Project recently released study results showing traces of arsenic, lead and BPA were found in certain baby foods and formulas. Other studies have surfaced that prove children’s clothing is another area of concern. In January 2014, Greenpeace released test results showing hazardous chemical residues were found in children’s clothing and shoes sold by major brands including Disney, Gap, American Apparel, Nike, Adidas and Burberry. These studies raise many questions and concerns. Why are these chemicals in baby products? Why aren’t there regulations meant to keep our children safe?

The reality is that clothing undergoes a long, complicated and often chemical-ridden process before it lands in our closets. Conventional cotton, for example, has likely been sprayed with an arsenal of pesticides and insecticides before the harvesting process even begins. Then fabrics can be dyed and chemically finished to make them fire, odor, stain, water or wrinkle-resistant. Less expensive, man-made fibers like polyester and nylon are petroleum-based and bring even more chemicals into the mix.

While children’s clothing is subject to its own set of regulations, the rules governing the fashion industry overall are notoriously loose. The Federal Trade Commission requires US clothing retailers to disclose on labels the fiber content, country of origin and the identity of the manufacturer. They are NOT required to disclose chemicals used in the production process. Fortunately, children’s products are held to a slightly higher standard with regulations limiting total lead and phthalate content to minimal amounts. However, children’s sleepwear has its own set of flammability standards, which could expose your child to dangerous chemicals. We’ll go deeper into this topic below.

While these studies serve to educate the consumer and hold larger industries accountable, the results can often times be paralyzing. Today’s mothers are over extended as it is without having to research every facet of our children’s safety.

To help, we provide 7 easy-to-remember tips for you to keep in mind the next time you shop for your kids:

1. Children’s Sleepwear: Look for the giant yellow tag

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When purchasing pajamas in sizes 9 months through 14 years, look for the giant yellow tag stating, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant.” Most brands will include this information in their online product descriptions as well and it usually reads, "wear snug fitting, not flame resistant." At first, this label is alarming, but it’s actually a good thing because it means the garment is free from toxic flame retardant chemicals. Since the 1970s, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has required children’s pajamas be treated with flame retardant chemicals. Thankfully, in 1996 the CPSC introduced a loophole: pajamas didn’t need to be made of fire-resistant fabrics if they were “tight-fitting”. Avoid exposing your children to flame retardant chemicals as they are linked to cancer, delayed mental and physical development and several other very alarming side effects. 

2. Minimize exposure to conventional cotton and synthetic fibers

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Conventional cotton is soft and cuddly, however it’s often tagged as “the dirtiest crop in the world.” The cotton industry uses only 2.5% of the world’s arable land, but accounts for 16% of global insecticides and 6.2% of all pesticides – far more than any other crop worldwide. In 2000 the EPA rated 7 of the top 15 pesticides used on conventional cotton as potential or known carcinogens. Just a drop of the pesticide aldicarb absorbed through the skin can kill an adult, however this chemical is commonly used in cotton production. Most importantly, hazardous pesticides applied during cotton production have been detected in finished garments.

As mentioned above, we recommend minimizing exposure to fabrics composed of polyester or a blend of polyester and other fibers. Polyester fibers are known to contain residues of antimony trioxide, which show many similarities in its chemistry and toxicity to arsenic. The effects of antimony include dermatitis, irritation of the respiratory tract and interference with the immune system.

We realize avoiding conventional cotton and polyester fabrics all together is challenging as they are widely available and often less expensive than natural fibers. Having said that, at the very least we think it is best to minimize the time your child spends in these clothes and make sure to wash them before the first use. 

3. Prioritize natural fibers

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Whenever possible try to purchase clothing made from natural fibers such as organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, lyocell/tencel, silk, linen and wool. It's worth investing a little more into sleepwear made from these fibers since children spend up to twelve hours each evening asleep in bed. It's an added bonus if you see clothing with certified stamps of approval. Rest assured your baby is safe in clothing made from GOTS certified organic cotton or fabric holding the OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification. Both organizations employ rigorous standards to ensure products are free from harmful chemicals. 

4. Look for AZO dye free claims

AZO dyes are used for making bright colors on clothing. These dyes have been found to be carcinogenic in high enough levels and are banned in the EU, but not in the US.

5. Steer clear from these claims

Avoid garments labeled permanent press, wrinkle or crease-resistant, shrink-proof, stretch-proof, water repellent or water-proof. These finishes are based on perfluorinated chemicals, PFCs, a known carcinogen that you probably don’t want next to your baby’s skin. They may emit formaldehyde as well (Black, Kate).

6. Avoid thick, rubbery prints on t-shirts

Stay away from t-shirts screen-printed with plastisol, which is a thick, rubbery material used to create slightly raised designs and logos. Plastisol contains organotins, which impact overall development, immune system and the nervous system.

7. Support brands with transparent practices

These days consumers are demanding more transparency and brands are responding. Support small businesses that have a good relationship with their supply chain partners and ask for more information when you have questions.

 

Additional Resources:

1-    Black, Kate, Magnifeco. Pg. 61