Hey! Now that we’ve gotten your attention with our greenwash-y, SEO-friendly title (thanks, Google), you should know that while there’s no such thing as “eco-friendly” diaper cream, here’s what to be wise on when you’re shopping so you can pick the best option for you, the planet, and the people making your stuff.
Any parent who has seen their baby experience diaper rash knows how important it is to have a tub or tube of diaper cream on hand in the event of irritation. For our non-parents out there, diaper rash is a common form of inflamed skin that appears on a baby’s bottom as a result of irritation from wet diapers, skin sensitivity, and chafing. It can cause discomfort for babies, and the best treatment is to keep their skin as clean and dry as possible. That’s where diaper cream comes in handy. Aside from air drying a baby’s bum and changing their diaper more frequently, a cream can soothe and protect the irritated skin.
WHAT TO BE WISE ON:
The goals of diaper cream — to fight diaper rash, reduce friction, and moisturize the skin — are reflected in the ingredients. If you know your kid gets diaper rash frequently and you’re looking to prevent it, opt for an oil-based option made of white petrolatum, beeswax, or plant oils to reduce friction, moisturize the skin, and create a protective barrier from irritation. If a rash has already developed, you’ll need all of that plus zinc oxide, which will fight the rash until your baby’s bum is back to normal. Either way, the devil’s in the ingredients. Read on to learn about what to look out for.
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THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
Zinc oxide is a mineral and for good reason is one of the main active ingredients in diaper creams. It has astringent and antiseptic properties that ease irritation and prevent bacteria from living in the skin, and it is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for diaper rash. 56% of the diaper creams we’ve rated contain zinc oxide, but some of our favorites are Made Of, Evereden, and Honest.
Talc is the softest mineral known to man. It is mined from the earth and used to absorb moisture and cut down on friction, which makes it useful for keeping skin dry and preventing rashes. Sounds like the perfect product to put on your baby’s bum, eh? Not so fast. In the earth, talc actually exists in very close proximity to natural asbestos, a mineral known to cause cancer when inhaled. This leaves potential for contamination of talc with asbestos, a problem all too real for Johnson & Johnson, which failed to address contamination in their own talc-based products. The company is now paying $2.1 billion in retribution to 20 women who developed ovarian cancer in part because of exposure to J&J’s talc-based baby powder. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organization) classifies asbestos-free talc as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans”, since there is no proof that asbestos-free talc causes cancer. However, we choose to steer clear of the stuff regardless. Desitin, Leader, CVS, and Up&Up are a few brands that use talc in their diaper creams.
The good news for us and the bad news for talc is that oil-based moisturizing ingredients like the ones listed below are also great at reducing friction.
Petrolatum is a common ingredient in many moisturizing skincare products. It helps seal the skin with a water-protective barrier, which comes in handy since diaper rash can be caused by excessive moisture on the skin. It’s derived from crude oil, which requires a refining process that creates a ton of air pollution. The percentage of crude oil contributing to diaper cream production is so small that even if we all stopped using it, we wouldn’t really move the needle on our overall fossil fuel usage, but it’s still not our favorite. When properly refined, petrolatum is called “white petrolatum” and has no known health concerns. However, since the U.S. doesn’t have requirements on refinement, petrolatum in products sold here can contain cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Unfortunately, 79% of petrolatum-based diaper creams contain the stuff that is potentially contaminated with PAHs. To avoid that, look for products made with white petrolatum; Boudreaux’s Butt Paste and Triple Paste are two that stand the test of time and countless rashy bums.
Beeswax is non-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and best of all, safe for babies. What could go wrong? Well... there are some ethical concerns here. Did you know that we harvest beeswax by melting beehives in boiling water and then cooling it? This process can involve cruel mishandling of the Queen Bee, whose wings are often clipped so that she cannot leave the hive. Yikes. As the demand for beeswax in the cosmetics industry increases, so does the number of honeybees harmed during the wax collection process.
Coconut oil is moisturizing, soothing, anti-inflammatory, and baby-safe. Growing coconut palms does not require the use of pesticides, which is great, but the crop does pose problems for biodiversity . As demand for coconut products increases, coastal mangroves are being destroyed in favor of coconut palm monocropping operations, which deplete the soil, cause habitat loss, and ultimately kill off plants and animals vital to the ecosystem.
Argan oil is one of our favorite baby-safe moisturizing ingredients. The argan tree grows almost exclusively in south-western Morocco, where it acts as a natural barrier against desertification, prevents soil erosion, and protects water resources. Argan trees have been cultivated for centuries, and their oil is so good for the environment that Morocco’s argan forest was named a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 1998. Fortunately, the tree is not damaged by the production of argan oil; rather, the production of argan oil is a reason to protect the tree. Women’s co-operatives have been set up to meet the increased demand for argan oil in the beauty industry, giving many Moroccan women the opportunity for financial independence. Companies like L’Oréal, Weleda, and L’Occitane have invested in the Moroccan argan oil trade to promote education and fair pay among women in the industry. No matter the company you buy from, you can look for Fair Trade argan oil to ensure that the Moroccan women who produce the argan oil are compensated appropriately.
If you’ve read our other Wise Guides, you already know that “fragrances” are bad news. The DL is that “fragrances” are considered trade secrets, which means companies are never obligated to disclose what chemicals they might contain. This term can hide phthalates and synthetic musks, which are known to disrupt hormones and can lead to developmental and fertility problems. Fragrances can also contain chemicals known to cause skin allergies and rashes in children, and the European Union Ecolabel program has data showing that they can be toxic to aquatic life.
Unfortunately, most diaper creams come in plastic tubes or tubs that are not easily recyclable. If you get your diaper cream in a tub, reuse it as a storage container for small pesky items or wash it thoroughly and fill it with snacks. If you’re determined to ensure your diaper cream containers are recycled, you can buy from a company with a Terracycle partnership, like Burt’s Bees or Weleda.
A FEW TAKEAWAYS:
When it comes to diaper cream, it’s what’s inside that counts. Opt for safe and effective ingredients like zinc oxide, white petrolatum, beeswax, coconut oil, and argan oil. Avoid potentially harmful ingredients like “fragrances”, petrolatum, and talc. When it comes to packaging, reuse containers when you can. Before you put your tubes and tubs in the recycling bin, check your local recycling guidelines to see which types of plastic packaging your municipality accepts, and always make sure containers are clean and dry before throwing them in the bin.