A class of chemicals, called phthalates, is found in baby shampoos, lotions and powders. Phthalates are used to stabilize fragrances and to help make plastics flexible. A recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics (Vol. 121 No. 2 February 2008, pp. e260-e268) found elevated phthalate levels in the urine of babies on whom baby lotion, shampoo, or baby powder (containing the chemical) had been used.

Earlier studies on animals indicate that these chemicals are animal carcinogens and can cause fetal death, malformations, and reproductive toxicity in laboratory animals. To quote the researchers, “Phthalate exposure is widespread and variable in infants. Infant exposure to lotion, powder, and shampoo were significantly associated with increased urinary concentrations … This association was strongest in young infants, who may be more vulnerable to developmental and reproductive toxicity of phthalates given their immature metabolic system capability and increased dosage per unit body surface area.”

At present, U.S. manufacturers are not required to list phthalate contents on products’ package labels, making it difficult for parents to make informed decisions. Some countries have limited their use.

Babies don’t need special lotions and powders. Water alone or shampoo in very small amounts is generally enough to clean infant hair. Concerned parents can seek products labeled “phthalate-free.”