Disposable diapers have become such a common product of convenience in our busy lifestyles that the vast majority of parents don’t think twice about throwing yet another box of diapers into their shopping carts. Everybody uses disposable diapers. It’s not a big deal… What’s there to think about?!
Well, here’s one thing to think about:
The diapers you use will be in DIRECT contact with your baby’s skin 24/7 for the next 2-3 years. Perhaps even longer.
That’s quite a chunk of constant exposure, isn’t it?
In the meantime, your child could also be inhaling the concoction of toxic substances that disposable diapers may emit.
Well, there is one tiny problem with diapers.
No scratch that. Three.
- A number of harmful chemicals can be hiding in a single conventional diaper.
- Diaper manufacturers are not required by law to disclose what their diapers contain.
- The majority of chemicals approved by the FDA have never been tested for safety.
Modern disposable diapers have come a long way, right? They’ve gotten thinner, the core has gotten more absorbent than ever, they even look cute!
Disposable diapers have become a rather complex product that’s actually quite genius in its own way. But before you reach for that next box, why not get informed about this whole diaper business and the problematic chemicals that may be lurking in your child’s diaper?
Chemicals in disposable diapers:
• Sodium polyacrylate
A diaper’s absorbent core consists of the combination of wood pulp fluff and super-absorbent polymers (SAP). Super-absorbent polymers are the key to disposable diaper absorbency and are used by virtually all disposable diaper manufacturers, green or not.
If you’ve ever noticed little gel-like beads in your child’s used diaper, that’s what we’re talking about.
The most commonly used super-absorbent polymer is a synthetic, unsustainable, petroleum-based sodium polyacrylate, but the good news is that some of the greener diaper manufacturers have started using bio-based sustainable alternatives to the petrochemical-based polymer.
For what it’s worth, SAP is classified as non-toxic. However, it can be a risk factor in urinary tract infections in children.
Dyes can be found all over the diaper, inside and out. The problem with dyes is that some can contain heavy metals, and you never really know what’s been used because diaper manufacturers generally resist disclosing what kinds of dyes, pigments, or inks they use.
If your child tends to have persistent rashes in areas where the dye touches the skin, the dye could be the problem.
Perfume fragrances are sometimes added to diapers to help mask unpleasant odors. Because the fragrance formulas are considered a proprietary trade secret, diaper manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals that make up the diaper’s scent.
Fragrance is a blend of various synthetic chemicals which creates a potential for rashes and respiratory (and other) issues. It’s an add-on ingredient used solely for the caregiver’s benefit, and even though some kids may tolerate scented diapers much better than other kids, it is best avoided.
Many different parts need to be bonded together during the diaper manufacturing process.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of information on the adhesives that diaper manufacturers use. Some companies boast that they use phthalate-free glue though, so it is entirely possible that adhesives containing phthalates are widely used.
I’m guessing that by now you’ve probably heard of phthalates. If you haven’t, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors even in small doses and may be carcinogenic.
Apart from the fragrance being one possible source of phthalate exposure, modern disposable diapers are made with plastic resins. (That’s essentially what makes a diaper leak-proof.) Phthalates are plasticizers, making plastic softer and increasing its flexibility, resiliency, and longevity. They’re not chemically bonded to the compounds to which they’re added and leach easily and continuously.
Have you ever heard of dioxins? Dioxins are potent carcinogens and persistent organic pollutants. Kind of a big deal, actually.
The diaper material and the fluff pulp found within the diaper’s core are generally white in color, but white isn’t how they’d naturally come out. Instead, various parts of the diaper are bleached, using either chlorine or peroxide.
During the bleaching process using chlorine, traces of dioxins are emitted. Unless your disposable diaper is labeled “unbleached”, or “bleached with peroxide”, it may contain dioxins.
Some diaper manufacturers state they use non-elemental chlorine during the bleaching process, claiming their diapers dioxin-free. However, while this method DOES significantly reduce dioxins, it DOES NOT entirely eliminate them. Unless the finished product is thoroughly tested and proven dioxin-free, “non-detectable levels” (which is what a manufacturer may claim) only refers to how sensitive their tests are.
• Tributyltin (TBT)
Conventional disposable diapers may contain tributyltin, a persistent toxic pollutant that’s extremely harmful to aquatic life.
The source of tributyltin contamination is the wood pulp that may contain remnants of TBT which is used as an antifungal agent in the wood pulp mills.
• Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
In this study, six leading cotton and disposable diaper brands were tested. It was found that mice exposed to conventional disposable diapers experienced asthma-like symptoms that increased during repeat exposure. Chemical analysis of the emissions revealed several chemical substances with documented toxicity: toluene, xylene, styrene, ethylbenzene, dipentene, and isopropylbenzene.
The effects of VOCs vary by the nature of the chemicals and the level and length of exposure. Long-term exposure can cause damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidney, and may be carcinogenic.
So here is something I don’t quite understand…
You child’s food must be labeled.
Their clothes must be labeled.
The baby shampoo and lotion must both be labeled.
The wipes you buy must be labeled.
Why not disposable diapers???
What makes diapers so special?
Why is there no disclosure, no labels, and very little regulation??
Why do we know so little about a product that’s used daily for years in a row???
That’s something I’d love to know.
As long as the disposable diaper industry remains self-regulated, it will stay full of secrets and the parents themselves will have to do the work. Like we have nothing better to do…
No worries though!
I got your back!
I know how busy you are, so I’ve compiled a Simple Guide To Non-Toxic Diapering which comes with a list of best safe disposable diapers to choose from. Hope it helps!
RELATED: Pros And Cons Of Using Cloth Diapers