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Toxins in Huggies and Pampers Aren't What You Want to Put Near Baby's Skin

The disposable diaper industry sells products containing endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and sometimes even heavy metals.

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When parents pull a box of diapers off the shelf, how many of them are aware of the risks to which they are exposing their children: cancer, asthma, hormone disruption, and others. Dioxins, sodium polycrylate, dyes, fragrances, and phthalates are some of the ingredients credible scientific researchers have found in disposable diaper brands including Huggies and Pampers used by millions of parents. It's even been discovered that the dyes used to put decorations on diapers are known to cause diaper rash. Fortunately, there are much healthier alternatives.

Dioxins are a class of potent carcinogens (cancer causers) that are not made on purpose but are created as a byproduct of industrial processes like chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and some natural processes like volcano eruptions. The name dioxins refers to hundreds of chemicals, out of which about 30 are the most toxic. The most toxic, TCDD, was the contaminant in the infamous Agent Orange that made it so deadly. They are considered persistent pollutants because, once created, they hang around for a long time without breaking down and they stay in the human body for a long time, too.

Phthalates, on the other hand, are classed as endocrine disruptors. This means that they mimic human hormones and send false signals to the body.

A 1999 study tested emissions from three brands of diapers on mice and concluded, “some types of disposable diapers emit mixtures of chemicals that are toxic to the respiratory tract. Disposable diapers should be considered as one of the factors that might cause or exacerbate asthmatic conditions.”

The anatomy of a disposable diaper is pretty simple. There’s the inner layer touching your baby’s skin, the waterproof outer layer and the absorbent core in the middle. The diaper might have some fragrance, and dyes as well. When your baby does his or her business, the liquid is supposed to be trapped and distributed within the absorbent core.

The inner layer is often made from polypropylene (and maybe some aloe and vitamin E), the absorbent core from wood pulp and sodium polyacrylate.

The website BabyGearLab, which was founded by a pediatrician and mother, tested the absorbent cores of a number of diapers and reported that, “every one of the diapers we tested includes a matrix of fluff material and chemical crystals known as Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP) to soak up and trap fluid [more on this below]. The role of the fluff, usually made from wood pulp and may also include wheat/corn based materials, is to distribute the fluid, while the SAP is intended to absorb fluid and locks it in the core away from baby.”

Within that relatively simple structure, the most common chemicals causing alarm are dioxins, sodium polycrylate,, dyes, fragrances, and phthalates. The previously mentioned 1999 study also named other chemicals it found in diaper emissions, such as toluene, which depresses the central nervous system; ethylbenzene, a potential carcinogen; dipentene, a skin and eye irritant; and styrene, which harms the nervous and respiratory systems. Many of these chemicals are commonly used in manufacturing plastics and other industrial products, so it’s not too surprising to find them in a diaper with an outer liner made of plastic.

The easiest chemicals to skip are fragrances and dyes. Buy fragrance-free diapers that don’t have cute cartoon characters or teddy bears depicted on their outsides. In 2005, Pediatrics found that the dyes used on diapers were often the cause of diaper rash. Some dyes can even contain heavy metals — and heavy metals are not what you want near your baby’s skin.