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Babies are not little adults. We all know this and yet we worry whether people making products to be used on babies take sufficient care to ensure the products are safe to use on them. Here we explain the major differences between baby and adult skin and how those differences are taken into account to ensure products intended to be used on babies and infants up to three years of age are safe for them in particular.
The skin of babies is more delicate than that of adults and can be damaged by coarse fabrics or rough towels for example. This is partly because baby skin is slightly thinner than adult skin (about 20 to 30%, but not five times thinner as has often been reported) and also because skin responds to the environment and babies are making the transition from life in the womb to life in the outside world. Baby skin also has a higher surface pH (a scientific measure of acidity or alkalinity).
Products intended to be used on babies and infants are formulated to take account of these factors; for example, they use milder cleansers, low levels of fragrance and carefully control the pH to ensure compatibility. Also, there is an enhanced safety assessment legally required for all cosmetic products intended for use on children under three years of age.
Can ingredients be more easily absorbed through infant skin?
Even so, people ask whether ingredients in such products are more easily absorbed into infant skin and whether this could lead to safety concerns now or later in life. Actually, babies are born with skin which is very nearly complete in its barrier function and this further matures within the first two to four weeks after birth to provide a very effective barrier to the ingress of substances. So, although baby skin may be physically more sensitive than adult skin and thus requires gentler handling, from the point of view of being able to keep out unwanted substances, baby skin is an effective barrier.
Should only natural and organic products be used on children's skin?
Almost any substance, natural or man-made, has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in someone, somewhere; the body does not differentiate whether something is natural or synthetic. There is no such thing as a ‘chemical-free’ product as in fact everything is made up of chemicals, from cosmetics, to water, to the human body. Sense About Science has some further information on chemicals that is worth a read.