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Baby Bathwater: Researchers Voice Allergy Concerns

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Baby bath water and allergy

Researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) are concerned about high levels of allergy producing chemicals uncovered in baby bath water. The researchers discovered a way to detect allergens in soap, gel, cologne and other personal hygiene products from common fragrances used in baby bath products, finding that in some cases, the substances that could produce allergy were "extremely high."

María Llompart, study co-author explains, "Applying the method to eight real samples obtained from the daily baths of a series of babies aged between six months and two years old, we discovered the presence of all the compounds under study in at least one of the samples." Of fifteen allergy producing chemicals, at least six were found in all of the samples taken from baby bath water.

Llompart says the chemicals are a cause for concern, and suggests that labeling of hygiene products used for babies may be overly tolerant. Consumers should be informed by better labeling. "The presence and levels of these chemical agents in bathwater should be cause for concern, bearing in mind that babies spend up to 15 minutes or more a day playing in the bath and that they can absorb these and other chemicals not only through their skin, but also by inhalation and often ingestion, intentional or not."

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The researchers used a technique called Solid-Phase Micro Extraction (SPME) to find chemicals in baby bath water that included benzyl salicylate, linalol, coumarin and hydroxycitronellal. In some cases, levels exceeded 100ppm (parts per million = nanograms/millilitre). Using a separate process called gas chromatography, the team was able to separate individual compounds and measure the quantity of each fragrance.

About the chemicals found in baby bath water

  • Coumarin has been used in perfumes for literally hundreds of years. It has a sweet scent, and is a toxin found in plants. It is a precursor to the blood thinner warfarin, or Coumadin.
  • Benzyl salicylate is a fixative used to stabilize fragrances in cosmetics.
  • Linalol is a natural compound found in flowers and spices that causes allergy in people with perfume sensitivity.
  • Hydroxycitronellal can produce allergic reaction in small doses. It is used in shampoos, moisturizers, body washes, and as a fragrance, in addition to other cosmetic applications.

Keeping your baby healthy and free from harm is a parental responsibility. The current study is important when choosing hygiene products for your baby. The incidence of eczema and other atopic dermatitis conditions has been increasing among children. The cause could be your baby’s bathwater. The new study shows for the first time the exact amounts of fragrance allergens found in baby bathwater, suggesting we pay attention to the high levels discovered.

Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 394 (5): 1399-1411, julio de 2009.
For a list of baby products that are safe, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Database.