Summer is upon us…warm days, beach expeditions, swimming pools, bright, hot sun, long evenings – and mosquitoes! I absolutely adore this time of the year and now that Isabella is a full-blown walking toddler rather than a baby, there are so many activities we can do. It’s just so much fun. Last year, Isabella was under 3 months old and so we were pretty much limited to sitting in the shade by the water etc. which was indeed exquisite in itself. Though in that bubble, I hadn’t really had to research much about summer-specific products because we couldn’t participate in many activities.
This time around, I’ve had a very steep learning curve trying to find non-toxic products – sunscreen, insect repellents, swimming aids and paddling pools are unfortunately often chock full of toxic ingredients and materials. It’s a minefield out there! I’ve been really shocked. It’s taken me weeks and weeks to find the best, safest and most effective products on the market.
Here are my top tips to help you avoid the surprisingly toxic nasties lurking in summertime children’s products, so that you can make safe choices for your children and families.
This is a huge but important topic and one which there is very little general understanding about…I had no idea myself about how SPF ratings were assigned and how sunscreens actually worked!
There are two types of UV radiation from the sun that we want to avoid:
- UVA radiation which causes skin cancer, lowering of the immune system and accelerated skin ageing.
- UVB radiation which causes sunburns.
SPF ratings only tell us about how effective a sunscreen protects against UVB radiation and not UVA…Somehow as long as we don’t look burnt, it doesn’t matter about getting skin cancer to the ratings agency! So it’s definitely important not to fall into the trap of thinking that just because your sunscreen is SPF 50, that you don’t need to reapply it regularly to you and your child.
How do sunscreens work?
There are two different types of sunscreens; ones that use chemicals to absorb the UV radiation and ones that use an ingredient to physically block the UV and scatter it.
- Chemical absorbers tend to be chock full of endocrine disrupting chemicals and should definitely be avoided – not just for your baby, but also for the rest of the family too. They tend to just block UVB radiation and are pretty light on with the amount of protection they give for UVA.
- Physical blockers such as zinc oxide give a much better protection from both UVA and UVB radiation.
Disappointingly, I have found that even the sunscreens which have a physical absorber in them, such as zinc oxide, often contain additional ingredients in them which are definitely not suitable for young children. ‘Broad Spectrum’ are the words to look for to make sure the sunscreen protects against UVA as well.
Sunscreens are a huge topic. To read more about them, including which ingredients to avoid, a discussion about nanoparticles and my top recommended list of safe sunscreens, you can head over and read my Non-Toxic Summer Workshop!
I literally spent weeks researching insect repellents. It’s one of those products, like sunscreens, where not only do you need to have a safe, non-toxic ingredients list because you are rubbing the contents all over your biggest organ, your skin, but you actually need something which performs a function effectively as well, in this case repelling mosquitoes. Depending on the area where you live or where you travel to, a repellent’s effectiveness can be absolutely essential if for example, there is a risk of catching Malaria or Zika.
No repellent is 100% effective and all repellents have pros and cons. Ultimately, you are trying to choose a product which repels insects and yet is mild enough to rub over a large surface of your child’s skin. It’s a pretty tough ask to find something that ticks both those boxes! There are however products out there which are much safer than others and are still effective.
In my perfect world, I was going to find a mixed essential oil solution which was super natural and effective – I was however in dreamland! Essential oil blends are often in much higher concentrations than they would normally be in a personal care product and so allergies can be serious. There is also very little testing that has ever been done about the effectiveness of essential oils in repelling mosquitoes…Definitely not something you want to rely on if you’re heading to a Malaria area… or even Queensland with Ross River Fever around! It’s not to say essential oils aren’t effective, but different species of mosquitoes respond differently to different products. I’m just letting you know that unfortunately we can’t just trust the first product with a great ingredients list that we come across.
Luckily, I did find a natural, low toxicity, really effective insect repellent which could be used on children in a high risk area. I also found some beautiful non-toxic products which can be used on babies from 6 months in areas without disease risk. They do exist – phew!
To read more about insect repellents – which ingredients to avoid, how to minimise your chance of getting a mosquito bite in the first place, easy ways to get rid of mosquito breeding areas around your home, a discussion of the effectiveness of other insect deterrents – from bug zappers to bracelets, as well as my recommended list, it’s all there in the Non-Toxic Summer Workshop!
It’s time for Isabella to learn to swim. She is absolutely fearless about most things and water is no exception. She does however have a body with a very dense constitution and like her dad, seems like she’d sink rather than float unless she puts some effort into it. Given that we live in Australia by the beach and are never far from a pool, it makes me very determined to get her water confident and swimming as early as possible.
For Christmas I wanted to get her some floating arm bands or a ring for swimming to give her more independence and also a paddling pool. Again, I was shocked to find a lack of safe alternatives.
PVC is everywhere when it comes to learn to swim aids – and inflatables in general. To make PVC flexible and bendy (like pool inflatables), hormone disrupting phthalates are used and can actually make up 30% of its weight! Phthalates are therefore in anything where flexible PVC is present. They are entangled within a plastic rather than bonded, so they can leach out easily when exposed to heat or solvents. Just think…an inflatable pool toy sitting out in the sun surrounded by water…really the perfect combination to get those phthalates leaching right out!
Phthalates are linked to a whole gamut of negative health effects. There is such good data and strong links between phthalates and asthma now that the World Health Organisation have blamed them as a main cause of the rising incidence of asthma in the developed world!
Studies have also linked phthalates with undescended testes, reduced sperm count and lowered testosterone in baby boys. There are also links between phthalate exposure and endometriosis, allergies, thyroid and immune disorders, hyperactivity and type I diabetes.
It’s definitely not something that can be taken lightly and given that up to 30% of PVC’s weight can actually be made of phthalates, avoiding it is a must. Looking for PVC-free pool toys and water safety products however can be pretty disheartening. It is incredibly difficult to find alternative products. However, they do exist!
If you want to find out what products I’ve bought for Isabella and are the safest alternatives that I can find and also read about options for safe paddling pools, it’s all in the Non-Toxic Summer Workshop!
This awesome workshop is a collection of all my research on sunscreens, insect repellents, pool safety and paddling pools as well as sunglasses. It’s a compilation of months of research. I’ve done all the hard work for you!
With this guide, you’ll be able to easily get on top of some really confusing and tough topics super quickly. It’ll make choosing the safest non-toxic summer products for children a breeze! Summer is a time to be enjoyed rather than having to stress about what products are safe to use. This way, you can avoid the confusion (and the guilt!)
The Non-Toxic Summer Workshop will give you the information to make your own informed decisions on products, with explanations of how products and ingredients work, which ingredients and materials to avoid as well as my top recommended lists for each category. It’s a non-toxic summer must!
I look forward to seeing you at the Non-Toxic Summer Workshop!