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Diaper is something that you put on your baby every day for 2-3 years. It is estimated that every child will go through 10,000 diapers before they are toilet trained. That’s a lot of diapers! Your baby’s skin is in direct contact with a diaper so it is important to find a good diaper. In the beginning, I didn’t wonder about how disposable diapers can be toxic just like many parents. I just thought you just go for Huggies or Pampers for baby’s diaper needs. It wasn’t until I started noticing non toxic diapers available. Disposable diapers can be toxic? After all, diapers are something in contact with my baby’s skin everyday, all day so I had to find out. And yes, just like everything around us, disposable diapers can also be toxic. In this post, I share with you how disposable diapers can be toxic and what non toxic diapers are available. (Diapers)
How Disposable Diapers Can Be Toxic
Disposable diaper manufactures are not required to list the ingredients of their products on the label. Therefore, if toxic ingredients are not listed, consumers will never know those toxic ingredients are touching baby’s skin. Their toxic fumes can also be off-gassed from the diaper for your baby to breathe in. Disposable diapers are made of three parts: Top sheet, center and back sheet. Let’s look at what each part is typically made of and how it can be toxic.
Top Sheet or Inner Lining
Top Sheet is the inner lining of a diaper where your baby’s skin touches. This inner lining material is very important since baby’s skin is in direct contact with the material. Most of the disposable diapers use polypropylene as an inner lining material.
Polypropylene is a petroleum-based plastic and it is not biodegradable. However, compared to other types of plastics, it is a low toxin plastic. Many food containers such as yogurt use polypropylene. It is still a plastic so it has concerns of chemical leaching. At least one study found polypropylene plasticware leached at least two chemicals: quaternary ammonium biocides and oleamide. One study found that exposure to quaternary ammonium biocides decreases fertility in mice. Oleamide is a compound used to improve the fluidity of molten plastic. It is also naturally occurring chemical in our body. If it is naturally occurring in our body, is adding extra oleamide leached from the product safe to our body? Rebecca Sutton, senior scientist with Environmental Working Group, expressed concern that exposing people to extra oleamide might alter brain function. Oleamide can also be harmful by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption and can cause eye, skin and respiratory irritation.
Although I haven’t found any study that states disposable diapers leach these chemicals, disposable diapers are also made from polypropylene which is the same material as those plasticware that leached chemicals in the study. There are better materials for top sheet or back sheet out there. Therefore, I would say polypropylene is not the best material for our baby’s skin.(Researchers Discover Chemicals Leaching From Polypropylene) (Exposure to common quaternary ammonium disinfectants decreases fertility in mice)(Oleamide)
Safe Alternative To Polypropylene:
Safe alternative to polypropylene is plant-based PLA (aka: ‘polylactide (PLA) biopolymer resin’). Plant-based PLA is a plant-based plastic and it is usually made from corn or potato starch. The polymer is created from molecules from plants instead of molecules from petroleum. I have only found below diapers that use no polypropylene in the inner layer.
- Andy Pandy Eco Friendly Premium Bamboo Diapers use non woven bamboo fibers. (no use of pesticides)
Fragrance & Phthalate
Top sheet of some disposable diapers may also contain a lotion to help protect the skin from over hydration and irritation. However, this lotion can be petroleum-based. There are concerns with petroleum-based lotions because it can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane. 1,4-dioxane is a potential human carcinogen and it readily penetrates the skin. Therefore, I am not a fan of diapers with lotions. (EWG Research Shows 22 Percent of All Cosmetics May Be Contaminated With Cancer-Causing Impurity)
Some diapers also contain a fragrance to make them smell nice. However, fragrance is one of the most toxic chemicals. As many as two hundred chemicals can be used to make a fragrance. However, manufacturers do not have to disclose these ingredients under the law since ingredients are considered to be a ‘trade secret’. We, consumers would not know whether toxic ingredients are used. Therefore, it is best to avoid products containing a fragrance.
One of the common ingredients in fragrance is phthalate. A group of chemicals called phthalates are dangerous chemicals and they are used in many household products such cosmetics, fragrances, adhesives, paints, fabrics, children’s toys, etc. Phthalates soften the hard plastics, help lotions penetrate and soften the skin, and help fragrances last longer. However they get released into the air where our babies breathe. They can also be absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. They are possible human carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates exposures in humans are also linked to low sperm count and quality, changes in sex hormone levels, obesity, preterm birth and low birthweight, reduced female fertility, altered toddler behaviour, birth defects, worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms. Therefore, do not choose diapers that contain a fragrance or phthalate. (Phthalates: Toxic Chemicals In Vinyl Plastic)
Safe Alternative To Phthalate:
Avoid disposable diapers with a fragrance in their ingredients. Choose fragrance-free.
Below brands are free of phthalates and fragrances.
Center or Absorbent Core
Center, the absorbent core is located underneath the inner lining. This part of the diaper absorbs the liquid and keeps that liquid stay in the diaper. Almost all disposable diapers will contain SAP (Super Absorbent Polymer, aka Sodium Polyacrylate) for this part of a diaper to absorb and trap the liquid. Sodium polyacrylate usually stay in the core of the diaper, however, occasionally it can leak through the lining. When leaking occurs, you will see small transparent crystals on a baby’s skin.
So is sodium polyacrylate safe? According to U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration that list potential hazards of chemicals in great detail, SAP (sodium polyacrylate) is totally safe. (Is Sodium Polyacrylate Safe?) Sodium Polyacrylate is a non toxic chemical, however, it can cause skin, eye and lung irritation on some infants (small percentage of infants) if contacted in its powdered form. (Precautions With Sodium Polyacrylate) It can also be contaminated with acrylic acid during manufacturing process. Acrylic acid is irritant to skin, eyes and the respiratory tract. Therefore, if SAP is contaminated with acrylic acid and it leaks through the lining, it could potentially irritate baby’s skin. However, SAP hasn’t been proved in studies to be toxic or harmful. Overall, SAP in disposable diapers seems to be safe so far.
To most disposable diaper manufacturers, SAP is an essential part of a disposable diaper. Therefore, almost all disposable diapers contain SAP. For this reason, some people ditch disposable diapers and just go for the cloth diapers. If you want to avoid SAP, you can go for the disposable diapers listed below.
- Broody Chick – Their disposable diaper is 100% compostable and biodegradable. The absorbent center is made of woodpulp and plant-based SAP.
- Bambo – Their absorbent core is filled with polyacrylate (SAP) and cellulose (ECF fluff). They are 75% biodegradable. They use less SAP than most diapers.
- Naty by Nature Nappies uses polylactic acid (PLA), plant based plastic in their acquistion/ distribution layer. It is made of corn starch plastic. (GMO-free) There are also totally chlorine-free (TCF) pulp to help with absorption and distribution of liquid. To further improve the absorption of their nappies they use a small amount of SAP.
Chlorine & Dioxins
In addition to SAP, there is a fluff material to distribute the liquid. The fluff is made of wood pulp and may also include wheat/ corn based materials. However, this wood pulp can be toxic if it is bleached with chlorine. In fact, most conventional disposable diapers are bleached with chlorine. Dioxins are formed in presence of chlorine in the wood pulp. Dioxin is known to cause cancer in humans according to World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the US Department of Health and Human services’ National Toxicology Program. It is the most potent carcinogen. It can also interfere with hormones, damage immune system, cause reproductive & developmental problems and cancer. Therefore, avoid disposable diapers bleached with chlorine. (Dioxins and their effects on human health)
Safe Alternative to Dioxins:
Since chlorine causes dioxins during the bleaching process, FSC-certified, totally chlorine-free (TCF), unbleached wood pulp will the safe alternative to conventional wood pulp.
The following brands do not use chlorine, therefore they have no dioxins.
Shell, Outer Lining or Back sheet
Diaper’s inner and outer lining is nonwoven material. Nonwovens are typically made from plastic resins such as polyethylene or polypropylene. They are made by chemically, thermally or mechanically joining the plastic fibers. The outer shell, sometimes called backsheet has the waterproof coating and it is usually made of polyethylene film. A polyethylene backing film serves as a liquid barrier for a diaper.(Disposable Diaper)
Polyethylene is not toxic in solid form. However, it can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed into the skin or eyes as a vaporizer or liquid. Vapor or liquid form of polyethylene can be found during manufacturing process, for example. Disposable water bottles as well as some food packaging are made of polyethylene. While polyethylene is generally considered a “safe” plastic, it can leach antimony, a toxic metalloid when heated. (Antimony leaching from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic used for bottled drinking water)(Antimony Toxicity)
Safe Alternative to Polyethylene:
Safe alternative is a plant-based plastic (aka bioplastic). It can be also called PLA or polyactic acid. PLA is biodegradable and derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane. Most plastics, by contrast, are derived from petroleum.
- Honest Baby Diapers use plant-based PLA. (use mixture of GMO and Non-GMO corn. They claim none of the GMO attributes remain in the final product.)
- Naty by Nature Nappies use a cornstarch plastic film as a leakage barrier. (no GMO-corn) Outer tissue is made of TCF (Totally chlorine free) wood pulp.
- Andy Pandy Eco Friendly Premium Bamboo Diapers use non woven bamboo fibers. (no use of pesticides)
Colored patterns on the outside of the diaper can be also toxic. These colored patterns are input by dyes, pigments of inks. Dyes are typically petroleum-based and contain heavy metals. These dyes can cause skin rash or allergic reactions in some babies where the dye touches baby’s skin. In one study, switching to dye-free diapers eliminated skin rashes. (Diaper Dye Dermatitis)
Safe Alternative to Dyes, Inks, Pigments:
Choose a dye-free disposable diapers. You can also go for disposable diapers with dye pigments that do not contain heavy metals.
- Naty by Nature is dye fee.
- Honest baby diapers and Bambo use dye pigments that do not contain heavy metals.
Safe, Non Toxic Disposable Diapers
Non toxic disposable diapers minimize the risks of allergy and diaper rash. They contain no allergens such as dyes, perfumes, preservatives, lotions, latex, fragrances, odor eliminators, etc. Let’s take a look at non toxic brands below!
Bambo Nature Baby Diapers – Non Toxic Disposable Diapers
Bambo Nature baby diapers have no phthalates, chlorine, heavy metals, formaldehyde, azo-pigments, colophum, organotins (MMBT, TBT, DBT). They are made of around 75% biodegradable materials. Absorbent core of this diaper is filled with SAP and also Cellulose. This diaper use less SAP than other diapers.
- Top sheet: Non-woven polypropylene (PP)
- Backsheet : Non-woven backsheet (outer side) of polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE)
- Absorbent Core: Polyacrylate (SAP) and cellulose (ECF fluff)
- Acquisition layer : Non-woven (PET/Co-PET).
- Hook tab fastening system: Non-woven (PP/PE).
- Adhesive: Adhesive is made of synthetic rubber—no optical brightener added.
- Elastication: Made from elastane
- Wetness indicator
Certifications: Nordic Eclabel certified, Asthma-Allergy Denmark certified, Dermatologically tested, FSC certified
Naty By Nature Babycare Eco-Friendly Baby Diapers – Non Toxic Disposable Diapers
Naty by Nature Babycare Eco-Friendly Baby Diapers are free of dioxins, fragrance, phthalates, VOCs, chlorine, dyes. They also use GMO free corn based materials.
- Top sheet : Top sheet is non woven polypropylene (PP).
- Absorbent Core: Acquisition/Distribution Layer which is immediately under the top sheet of the diaper is made of Polylactic acid (PLA), plant based plastic. It is made of corn starch plastic.(GMO-free) There are also totally chlorine-free (TCF) pulp to help with absorption and distribution of liquid. To further improve the absorption of their nappies they use a small amount of SAP.
- Back Sheet: They use GMO-free, corn-based film as a leakage barrier. Outer tissue is made of TCF (Totally chlorine free) wood pulp.
Certification: Certified by Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association. They are also certified by Vincotte. Vincotte is an independent, internationally regarded certification organization that specializes in analyzing the renewability of raw materials. First eco diaper with OK Biobased Certification from one of the world’s most demanding independent non-profit organizations. FSC certified.
Broody Chick Eco-Natural Diapers – Non Toxic Disposable Diapers
Broody Chick Eco-Natural Diapers are chlorine free, fragrance free, hypo-allergenic, and breathable. These diapers are 100% natural, fully biodegradable and compostable.
- Top Sheet: Super soft lining 100% Ingeo spunbound non-woven fabric certified 100% natural and compostable to EN13432 (EU) standard and fully compostable to ASTM D 6400 (USA)
- Absorbent Core: Wood Pulp fibers Naturally biodegradable
- Back Sheet: The Bio-Film used (fecula) is extremely waterproof, 100% natural and compostable to the following standard: EN 13432 (EU)
Honest Baby Diapers – Non Toxic Disposable Diapers
There are no chlorine, phthalates, fragrances, lotions, latex, heavy metals in Honest baby diapers.
- Top sheet & back sheet: They usePolyethylene & Polypropylene in the inner layer and Plant-based PLA made from corn for outer layer. Corn is from both GMO and Non GMO corn. However, Honest co. claims none of the GMO attributes remain in the final product.)
- Absorbent Core : Bio- based Wheat Polymer Blended With Sodium Polyacrylate, Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) Wood Pulp (From Sustainably Managed Forests)
- Naturally derived odor blockers : Citrus & chlorophyll
- Adhesives : In Seams & Joints
- Ink, Citrus Extract & Liquid Chlorophyll (Natural-Derived Odor Blockers In Bio-Core)
Certifications: Certified by Green America.
Andy Pandy Eco Friendly Premium Bamboo Diapers – Non Toxic Diaper
Andy Pandy Eco Friendly Premium Bamboo diapers are 100% free of Chlorine, Phthalates, Latex, PVC, TBT, Alcohol, Preservatives, and Antioxidants. They are also naturally hypoallergenic and antibacterial.
- Top sheet & back sheets: 100% Non-woven bamboo fiber (no use of harmful chemical pesticides to treat the bamboo).
- Absorbent Core: Totally chlorine free fluff pulp, sumitomo SAP
- Pure aloe essence (just a light mist on inner layer to provide nourishment to baby’s skin)
- Adhesive: Velcro tape adhesive
- Elastic in the waistband and around the legs
- Wetness Indicator : PH Strip
All of the disposable diapers listed above do not use chlorine to bleach (totally chlorine free), therefore, there is no concerns of dioxins. Also, all of them do not contain fragrances and phthalates. Honest uses plant-based PLA for their in the outer layer and polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) for inner layer. Andy Pandy uses nonwoven bamboo for their top sheet and back sheet. Naty by Nature Baby doesn’t contain any dyes in the back sheet. Honest Co. and Bambo Nature use dye pigments that do not contain heavy metals. Broody Chick Eco-Natural Diapers are 100% biodegradable and compostable. Bambo Nature is 75% biodegradable. Broody do not use SAP in their absorbent core. Bambo and Naty use less SAP than most diapers. My favourite is Naty by Nature Baby. I think it is the best overall non toxic disposable diaper. I also like Honest Co.Baby Diapers. I use both and they have been both working out great with my baby. However, any of these diapers would be a great non toxic disposable diaper choice.
If you want to read my reviews on non toxic diapers, Naty and Honest diapers, please read my post ‘Naty and Honest Diaper Review – Naty VS Honest Diapers‘.
If you want to find out if Huggies or Pampers disposable diapers are safe, please read my next post, ‘Huggies And Pampers Disposable Diapers Ingredients Review’.