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18 Sep 2020

What's in your baby lotion?

We look at the common ingredients inside baby lotions, such as Johnson's Baby Lotion, Sainsbury's Little Ones, Tesco's Fred & Flo and Superdrug's My Little Star

You might have seen all sorts of claims on social media and the internet when it comes to looking after your baby, including what's best to put on their skin.

If you've picked up a bottle of baby lotion, you might be concerned by all the unfamiliar words listed in the ingredients and concerned about what they do.

We spoke to cosmetic scientist Dr Barbara Olioso of The Green Chemist Consultancy, to find out what's in baby lotion and why moisturising is so important for delicate newborn skin.

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How does it moisturise?

Baby's skin is vulnerable to irritation and dryness, and it can be prone to eczema.

You'll find three different types of moisturising ingredients in baby lotion working together to help keep your baby's skin soft, supple and protected.

  • Isopropyl palmitate An emollient to soften the skin and prevent it drying out.
  • Glycerin A humectant that draws water from the air and keeps it in the skin.
  • Coconut oil An occlusive that creates a water-repelling skin barrier for protection.

Is it really kind to skin?

As well as moisturising, baby lotion needs to be gentle and not harsh when you use it as part of your baby's skincare routine.

Dr Olioso says: 'Both sodium hydroxide and sodium bitartrate help control the final pH of the product, so that it's not too acidic and irritating to your baby's skin.'

Typically, these products are claimed to be hypoallergenic and 'formulated to minimise the risk of allergies', as well as free of known fragrance allergens.

However, Dr Olioso explains it's still possible that some people may react to ingredients other than fragrance, including preservatives.

She says: 'Hypoallergenic is not a guarantee that the product is allergy free, it means it has a lower risk of causing an allergy.'

Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you or your baby reacts to a product.

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Why does it have that texture and consistency?

Baby lotion contains several 'sensory modifiers' to help with the feel of the product.

Dimethicone means the product 'glides' and can be rubbed in efficiently - ideal for wriggling infants or for gentle baby massaging - plus you can use less.

Dr Olioso says: 'A lotion leaves a lighter skin feel, less residue and it is easier to apply.'

This makes them perfect for delicate baby skin or for adults whose skin needs a little boost.

The product's consistency is also helped by glyceryl stearate and polysorbate 20, which are emulsifiers that keep the oils dispersed in the water, like in a salad dressing, rather than settling into layers.

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Does it contain dyes?

Johnson's Baby Lotion used to contain the colouring Red 33 (also known as CI 17200), giving it its ubiquitous pink colour.

However, the company removed the colouring in 2019 as part of a product revamp because they didn't feel the dyes served any purpose, and instead the pinkness is denoted by the bottle.

Some brands of baby lotion are still pink - including Tesco's Fred & Flo, Sainsbury's Little Ones and Superdrug's My Little Star (labelled as CI 17200), plus Asda's Little Angels also contains CI 47005, also known as quinoline yellow.

Dr Olioso says there is a psychology around applying a pink product because 'pink is the colour of love' and although there are natural pink dye alternatives, they are costly.

She says: 'As consumers are becoming wary of artificial colours, if they wish the same emotional experience in a natural way they will have to be prepared to pay a premium for it.'

Why does it look a particular way?

It's not enough that a product works, it also has to look right too.

Johnson's Baby Lotion contains titanium dioxide, an 'opacifying agent' that helps to give the product its signature milky appearance.

Another ingredient that contributes to the product's appearance is magnesium aluminium silicate.

Naturally derived from clay, it's used as a thickener to give the lotion the consistency consumers expect when they squeeze it from the bottle.

Dr Olioso says: 'It's also used for mattifying and making the texture less greasy.'

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What about fragrance?

The fragrance in Johnson's Baby Lotion is simply included in the ingredients list as 'parfum', so it's hard to know exactly what it is.

The same applies to a number of other baby lotions, including the Fred & Flo product and Superdrug's My Little Star, as well as Sainsbury's Little Ones which is advertised as being 'delicately fragranced'.

Dr OIioso says: 'Fragrance sells, plus it masks the odour of the base ingredients.'

'However, from a dermatology point, it would be better to stay away from fragrance as its one of the most common causes of skin reactions and the baby is still developing its own immune system.'

Does baby lotion expire?

Whether your bottle of baby lotion is used up quickly or you use it sparingly, you'll want it to stay in good nick and that's where preservatives come in.

Preservatives are essential to ensure product safety and shelf life. For example, phenoxyethanol is a preservative that acts against bacteria, as well as being a stabiliser for other chemicals that might otherwise spoil or degrade, while p-anisic acid has antifungal properties.

Dr Olioso says: 'P-anisic acid is a nature identical ingredient: in other words, it's found in nature but can be made from either natural sources or synthetic ones.

Your bottle of baby lotion should tell you how long the product stays fresh for and typically this is 12 months from first opening it.