Baby Scents? Or Baby Cents?

We all love the smell of babies. Just last week when I was watching Modern Family, I couldn’t stop laughing when one of the characters was “baby huffing.” You know that overwhelming feeling when you hold a baby in your arms only be overtaken by the desire to smell their sweet fluffy heads?
I’m familiar with this feeling and recently had a good go of it while visiting my family for the holidays. The newest addition to our family, Calvin, is five-months-old and has that amazing baby smell. I just couldn’t get enough.

Huff Huff.

Then I read Jenn Savage’s column on Dolce and Gabbana’s new product — perfume for babies.  Cue perfume marketing department. I’ve heard of a lot of strange perfume ideas including sushi-smelling cologne for men in Japan, but perfume for babies really takes the cake.

Here’s my problem with perfume for children:

They smell wonderful, as they are.

There’s a reason my family and others call it baby huffing. Most everyone loves the smell of babies! Why would we do anything to change that? And how can we possibly “enhance” this smell with synthetic fragrance? The amount of fragrances we encounter in our daily lives continues to rise. Air fresheners in our cars and homes, air sprays for your stinky gym bag, the bathroom, scented lotions, shampoos and perfumes. The list goes on and meanwhile our exposures to toxic chemicals continue to rise. Why add another one to expose our babies to them sooner than necessary?

Fragrances and perfumes are toxic, plain and simple.

Most perfumes and fragrances are just plain bad for us. There is a vast body of science linking several (sometimes hundreds of toxic chemicals) in any given perfume. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has a lot of great information on their website on this topic, including the health impacts of fragrances.

For example, phthalates are a class of toxic chemicals found in a wide variety of products ranging from vinyl flooring, building supplies, air fresheners, cosmetics, lotions, soaps and perfumes. It is one of the main toxic ingredients in perfumes and has been linked to a host of health effects from hormone disruption, malformations of the male reproductive tract, feminization of males, and undescended testes in males. Fragrance and perfumes also may exacerbate asthma symptoms in adults and children. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “as far back as 1986 the National Academy of Sciences identified fragrance ingredients as one of six categories of neurotoxins — chemicals that are toxic to the brain

Consumers have no access to information on toxic chemicals in fragrances.

Due to weak federal laws, the companies that use the word “fragrance” in their products don’t need to label what chemicals are used in that particular scent. So while on a label it looks like a fragrance is one ingredient, it could actually be dozens of different chemicals. The result? The consumer is once again burdened with trying to navigate a marketplace with little to no information.

What you can do:

A few simple and common sense tips will protect you and the little ones in your life. Simply skip perfume and fragrance in your home. We don’t need to be spraying babies or adults with toxic chemical perfumes. Second, make sure to urge Congress to pass the Safe Chemicals Act and Safe Cosmetics Act. Until we have strong laws on toxic chemicals, undisclosed and toxic chemicals will continue to creep into our lives.

There isn’t much we can do to stop manufacturers from marketing to our children, but we can choose not to buy these products. In the meantime, I’ll continue to baby huff the natural way.

Guest contributor Lindsay Dahl is the Deputy Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.  This is cross-posted with permission from the SCHF blog. Follow Lindsay on Twitter at @Lindsay_SCHF .

Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • Amanda Frayer

    Fragrances should carry a warning label that explains the health risks involved. If they did, what loving parent would ever purchase them?! It’s atrocious that we have to research every product ourselves. It’s more atrocious that our federal government has no interest in protecting us from harmful chemicals by regulating them better. And fragrances marketed for babies are especially atrocious, because a baby is new to the world, and exploring the smells of their environment for the first time. This sense of smell is delicate and developing.

    Parents have an impossible job protecting their child from exposure to toxins linked to developmental disorders, cancer and other diseases–what person has time to do this while also working and raising children? Thanks for posting this great article, and the great links.

  • Hey Amanda, I couldn’t agree more, it’s a shame consumers aren’t warned about the toxic chemicals used in the products AND have to bear the burden of protecting the health of their child. It’s our hope that smart federal laws get get in place to ensure chemicals and products are safe before they end up on the shelves (via the Safe Chemicals Act.) Glad you liked the post.

  • It’s not surprising that they market baby perfume. Some types of diapers and baby shampoo are so heavily scented that it’s nauseating. Babies should not be exposed to all those chemicals , especially since, as Lindsay said, babies smell great already!

  • Liz Hitchcock

    I heard the baby perfume idea ridiculed on NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this weekend and it sounded like something they had made up for a joke. The idea of putting perfume on your baby is laughable, but the fact that largely unregulated chemicals are everywhere in our children’s lives is no laughing matter. We need chemical policy that protects our children’s health.

    • Liz, I heard it on NPR as well! That was part of the inspiration for writing the post (and Modern Family of course!) Thanks for reading and glad you liked the content.

  • Actually, this is not a new idea. I live in South Florida and have seen baby perfumes for years in the grocery store baby section. This may be new for Dolce & Gabbana, but not in my neck of the woods. It seems to be popular with the Hispanic community.

    • Thanks Mrs. K — yes this concept has been taken on by other perfume manufacturers in the past. I’m concerned by the increased popularity with this trend, especially in light of health effects for our children and adults! Thanks for reading, hope life is sunny in FL 🙂

  • D&G’s baby fragrance is just disturbing to me. Not because it’s a fragrance for babies but because it’s D&G which is just weird. If you walk down any baby aisle, you’ll see plenty of fragranced baby products with the same purpose in mind to make babies smell like babies. And whether it’s Johnson & Johnson or Aveeno, most of them, lotions, soaps, diaper ointment, they all contain some kind of bad chemicals.

    All that being said, your piece neglected to address that baby fragrances are a huge part of Latino culture. Being Cuban-American, I grew up associating babies with two popular baby scents – Violetas & Para Mi Bebe. I’m sure it’s pure alcohol and not at all good for kids but it’s a part of our culture. Someone once told me “bad spirits” didn’t like pleasant scents so perhaps that has something to do with it. I don’t really know.

    What I do know is that for me baby scents have a very special place in my heart because it makes me feel connected to my roots. Despite being a very crunchy mom who tries her best to limit her children’s exposure to bad chemicals, I do use baby perfume on them on occasion. I never put it on their skin, just dab on their clothing. They get excited when my family ships a big box of the stuff to us. It connects them to their culture as well. A whiff reminds me of my own childhood, of my family. So while many people will bash the notion, baby perfume is for many a connection to their culture.

    • Hi Carla, I really appreciate your comment. Thank you for pointing out the prevalence of perfume for children in the Latino culture. One of the things we work on at Safer Chemicals is how minority populations are frequently disadvantaged when it comes to toxic chemicals in consumer products. Whether it is the cultural practice of using perfume in Latino culture, or the high levels of heavy metals in many hair straighteners targeted for African American women, there are disproportionate impacts. Our main goal isn’t to move away from all consumer products, but rather create a system in the U.S. that makes sure those products don’t contain harmful chemicals in the first place. While we’re waiting for Congress to get off their behinds and pass the Safe Chemicals Act, I’ll still recommend that parents and children abstain from perfume for health reasons. Hope that helps and thanks again for your comment.

  • It’s amazing how many of these things we’ve taken for granted in life: that products must be safe if they’re on the store shelf, that pediatricians would inform us if there was really a need to be concerned, that companies have my child’s best interest at heart. If more parents spoke up, we’d already have a Safe Chemicals Act, wouldn’t we?

    • Yes Anne! The more people speak up, the more pressure Congress will feel to pass the Safe Chemicals Act. Have you called your Senators recently? Please do!

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