Rachel Shnider, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician practicing outpatient general pediatrics in Washington, D.C.
What does “natural” actually mean when it comes to baby products? Are natural products really superior to the ones most of our parents used? Bundoo Pediatrician Dr. Rachel Shnider decodes the marketing speak.
Bundoo: What do the terms “organic” and “natural” actually mean when it comes to skin, hair, and healthcare products? Are these terms regulated so parents know what they’re getting?
Dr. Rachel Shnider: “Organic” and “natural” have to do with the sourcing of ingredients in various products. “Organic” products are supposed to be regulated by the FDA in order to be labeled this way. I do not believe that the same applies to “natural” products. Regardless, it is important to remember that the words “organic” and “natural” do not necessarily mean “healthy,” as these words only have to do with where the ingredient comes from, not its safety profile. For example, many “natural” or “organic” plants are still highly toxic or potentially allergenic.
Are there any ingredients in natural products that you really like and recommend to your own patients? For example, do you find that lavender and chamomile are soothing, or that baby skin really responds to organic aloe vera?
Actually, I recommend against a lot of these products. Just because they are “organic” or “natural” does not mean they are best for your baby’s skin. Many babies have very sensitive skin that is easily irritated by fragrance and flower/herb extracts, so I usually recommend products that are completely fragrance-free. I do not think that they need to be “natural” or “organic.” In fact, my favorite skincare products for babies are: Dove sensitive skin soap, Cetaphil, CeraVe, and Aquaphor to name a few. Some parents prefer to use oils such as olive oil or coconut oil — these oils tend to work well, too, and offer a more “natural” option.
On the other side, are there are any of these products that you don’t recommend or consider a waste of money?
I absolutely do not recommend “all natural” insect repellents, for one. Some can actually be harmful to small children, and overall, they have been proven to not work as well as traditional DEET and Picaridin-based products (which I do recommend for children, including infants).
It’s not hard to find websites with parents worrying about potentially toxic ingredients in conventional shampoos, soaps, and lotions. These might include fragrances, preservatives, texture enhancers, and ingredients like benzoic acid, cetearyl alcohol, and others. What do you recommend parents do if they are worried about this?
The Environmental Working Group has a great website for consumers that ranks different products in terms of safety (ewg.org), and I often recommend it if parents have concerns. Overall, I tend to tell parents to not worry too much about these products. Exposure to these chemicals is related to amount used and the time it spends on the body. So for most items (such as shampoos, soaps, etc.), the amount used is fairly small, and the products are washed off rapidly.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019