GIVEN that my daughter has mild eczema, I have always been careful in selecting her personal care products. Certain products trigger itching or redness as she has dry, sensitive skin.
When I was growing up, there were hardly any body care products formulated for children except the famous Johnson's baby shampoo and powder, both of which may be found in every household with a bundle of joy.
These days, choices are abound, but parents are also more discerning and concerned about ingredients that are harmful or may trigger allergies.
Buds Organics co-founder and research and development director Soo Kian Kheng says baby skin is 20 to 30 per cent thinner than adults, and absorbs and loses moisture quickly as their skin barrier has not fully developed.
This means external substances or harmful chemicals can penetrate their skin easily.
As for newborns (up to about 6 months), their skin is easily irritated, so it is crucial to choose products designed for infants, as they would contain milder ingredients.
Soo also advises parents to pay attention to chemicals, such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), parabens, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), mineral oils, triclosan and artificial fragrances, and avoid products that contain them.
Additionally, complex chemical combinations used in certain products could be volatile and release other chemicals that may have unknown side effects.
"Be extra cautious if the ingredient list is too short, vague or has non-scientific names. I would urge parents to look for safe, mild and preferably natural products for their little ones," says Soo, who co-founded Buds Organics after seeing his own child suffering from sensitive skin and eczema.
Soo explains that plant oils have chemical structures that are closer to our skin oil, and there is low risk of long-term harm as they are time-tested remedies.
"Since the skin is the largest organ in our body and easily absorbs products we apply onto it, I prefer to be cautious and only give what is pure, safe, natural and effective to our customers."
Often, to soothe parental concerns over safety, words such as "mild" or "kid-friendly" are used on products formulated for children.
Soo explains that these are non-technical, non-committal terms, with a lot of ambiguity. For example, "mildness" and "free from harmful chemicals" are two different things.
"Yes, as a consumer, you want mildness but still, most importantly, the product has to be safe."
As consumers, we should be aware of the marketing spin on product labels, he adds.
It pays to be slightly cynical and do some research before buying — take a closer look at their ingredients list, for example. The ingredient that appears first is the one that is used most in the product.
And if you see scientific-sounding names, don't be alarmed. This system of naming is called the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). For example, jojoba oil should be listed as Simmondsia chinensis seed oil.
"If you pick up a product and the manufacturer has not bothered to use INCI names, alarm bells should start ringing as to how much they care about disclosing their ingredients."
Another benefit of a well-documented ingredient list is that you can pick out the key active ingredients. You can then do some research on these ingredients yourself before purchasing.
Similarly, the usage of words, such as "organic" and "natural", is still largely unregulated, explains Soo.
The market is saturated with manufacturers who jump into the organic bandwagon with the least of requirements met. That's why certification is essential, he stresses.
Many personal care brands do not have governing bodies to check and audit what they claim. If it's certified organic, there should be a certification body auditing the ingredients, formulations and production process.
"As formulators, we always try to understand the safety and behaviour of our active ingredients. We need to know which essential oils are suitable for babies and which are harmful. The dosage of ingredients used is also important."
When Buds Organics decided to certify its products as organic, the company did a lot of research to determine the best certification.
This also meant it would be more challenging to achieve it, and they had to make changes to their formulations and manufacturing processes.
Soo says certifying organic does not mean having safe ingredients only, it also means ensuring that their products, packaging and manufacturing processes are environmentally friendly.
In the end, the company decided to seek its certification from renowned French organisation Ecocert, and it has maintained its status every year since 2008.
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