A week ago, my son almost died.
That's a very strange and very frightening sentence to write. I cannot wrap my mind or my mouth around it. There he is, he's smiling right at me and playing away as he always is. The concept that he could be erased from existence is one that my mind and my heart are not willing to accept.
He had a severe allergic reaction to a chance exposure to a Johnson's baby bath product and went into anaphylaxis. Thankfully I was with my best friend - a paramedic - at the time who knew exactly what to do. At the hospital when he came out of resus I was told that arriving 5 minutes later would have been too late.
We never even knew that he had this allergy because we don't use any kind of commercial product on his skin for cleansing or moisturising. We wash him in warm water and massage a little pure oil into his skin at bedtime, or before swimming as a barrier cream (we have used watermelon seed, calendula, coconut, macadamia nut.) He does not ever smell or look dirty and in fact he is not dirty. No matter how much food he smears around his face or up his arms, no matter how enormous a poosplosion he has had, it has never been necessary to apply a surfactant to his skin.
Even if he had not been born prematurely (prem babies have a higher rate of asthma and eczema than full term babies) we would have been soap free because we avoid anything within our control that could put our son at risk and soap is neither necessary or recommended.
So why is it that Health Visitors and GPs and Midwives and Dermatologists and pretty much every parent that I know don't recommend washing newborn skin and hair (until between 9 and 18 months or in the case of some people EVER) with soaps?
Because soap contains lye (sodium hydroxide/potassium hydroxide), which is a poison. When not diluted enough, it is corrosive to the skin and eyes causing chemical burns upon contact, or if ingested can be fatal. It's also flammable. Soap irritates the skin and dries it out. In some cases the skin is resilient enough to fight back against being stripped of its natural oils, in the case of more sensitive skin other problems can occur.
It's not just soap though, if you take Johnson's baby products for example - the highest selling brand in the world - they contain plenty of seriously nasty shit.
Phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA)
Phthalates can be found in most food and personal care products because essentially they are used to soften plastics. So pretty much any plastic object around the house, kids toys (another reason why we allow him very few plastic toys where we can find wood alternatives), utensils, bottles, teething products, medicines - most of the things your baby chews on or otherwise has in their mouth can transfer phthalates. Obviously also food packaging applies here so if you buy pre-packaged food then chances are you're ingesting them. They are also used as an ingredient in a most personal care products such as moisturisers or lubricants to help the product penetrate the skin and to help perfumes adhere to the skin.
Why all the hoo ha? Because they are carcinogenic and whether they are ingested or applied to the skin, they make their way through our system and can be detected in urine. They are linked to asthma, hormone issues, obesity, fertility and gestational issues and research is still being carried out as to whether the known causal link between phthalates and animal cancers can be linked to human cancers.
Parabens. (Methylparaben, Butylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Isobutylparaben)
Also showing up in urine and also in biopsies of tumours - particularly in women - these are used in most liquids such as shampoo, shower gel, conditioner, bubble bath, lotions etc to discourage the growth of bacteria in the product and increase shelf-life.
Why all the hoo ha? Because they are toxic and disrupt hormone function (estrogen in particular) which is linked to an increase in cancers and reproductive issues. They are also a skin irritant, triggering contact allergies.
Other irritants that can be found in baby products
Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, Dimethicone (silicone oil), Mineral Oil, Fragrance...
Don't trust something that says "designed for babies" without reading the label. Don't trust any advertising, because these companies don't care about you or your kids. They are trying to sell you shit you don't need so that they can turn a profit. In the case of baby bubble baths and washes and shampoos, they even say on the bottle that best results are achieved if used with the baby lotion or the baby oil or the baby gel... because these products upset the natural balance of the skin, causing it to either overcompensate to fix the problem or triggering problems like eczema and other dermatitis. Your babies skin is baby soft as a result of using these products only if you're very lucky. They are not mild. They are not gentle. Sure they smell nice and our mothers and our mother's mothers used them, but the formula they use today is not the same formula they used last year let alone thirty and fifty years ago! Until children are literally caked in filth that cannot be shifted with water, or are hot and sweaty and smelly then soap is not necessary, so why use it?
No judgement to anyone who does use it, everyone is different, everyone has different skin and chances are your kids will be just fine, but make the decision to feed something to your baby or slather it on their skin or your skin or wash their clothes after checking what it contains and whether it can be harmful. Don't take it for granted that you can trust something without doing your research.
If I have succeeded in scaring the living shit out of you (sorry!) then this post about going shampoo-free for yourself may be of interest, written by the amazing Heather.
Ziggy played guitarrrrrraaaaarrrrraaaarrrrrr.
Title: Lady Grinning Soul by David Bowie