Expert insights on the hidden dangers of beauty products for children

Some beauty products are not safe for kids and it’s crucial to know which ones to avoid. Picture: trevoykellyphotography/Pexels

Some beauty products are not safe for kids and it’s crucial to know which ones to avoid. Picture: trevoykellyphotography/Pexels

Published May 16, 2024


The beauty industry is overflowing with products promising eternal youth. But in this sea of options, we often overlook an important group: our children.

Some beauty products are not safe for kids and it’s crucial to know which ones to avoid.

As such, Independent Media Lifestyle reached out to Dr Judey Pretorius, a biomedical scientist and founder of Biomedical Emporium skincare.

Here’s her expert advice on navigating the beauty aisle for our kids.

Can you explain why certain beauty products might be harmful to children?

By law, beauty product makers cannot use ingredients in amounts that could harm children or adults. Safety guidelines for cosmetics are essential, ensuring that products do not harm anyone.

What common ingredients in beauty products are considered unsafe for children, and why?

While many ingredients aren't unsafe, they can irritate. High levels of retinoic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid can be particularly irritating. Preservatives like parabens, colourants, dyes, fragrances, and some botanical extracts can also irritate children's skin.

Pretorius cautions that kids, especially those under 5, are prone to allergies, making it hard to predict reactions.

Many advanced anti-ageing products aren't hypoallergenic and can harm a child's sensitive skin.

Are there specific types of beauty products (e.g., make-up, lotions, hair products) that pose greater risks to children? Can you elaborate on these risks?

Pretorius warned that acetone, found in nail polish remover, can be very dangerous if ingested by children.

Some products are meant only for skin application, but their attractive appearance might tempt kids to taste them. Consuming acetone or nail polish can be harmful.

To keep your little ones safe, always store such items on high shelves or in locked cabinets. Picture: Polina Kovaleva/pexels

Likewise, lotions and hair products containing peroxide ingredients pose risks if swallowed. To keep your little ones safe, always store such items on high shelves or in locked cabinets.

Make sure your storage spaces are child-proof to prevent any accidents.

What are the potential health impacts of children being exposed to phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde donors found in some beauty products?

The Health Act mandates that manufacturers must prove their products are safe and won’t cause harm. Beauty products are meant to enhance appearance temporarily and shouldn’t have long-term effects on the skin.

However, anyone can make and sell their beauty products, simply by labelling them. Unlike the strict pharmaceutical industry, there are no tough laws on who can manufacture and sell cosmetics, explained Pretorius.

This means we often don’t know who made a product, their qualifications, where it was made, or the concentration of ingredients used.

For these reasons, it’s crucial to be cautious about where a product comes from. Always check the label for the manufacturing address and contact details like a website or phone number.

Making sure that the product is not made in someone's home reduces the risk of encountering poorly made or unsafe cosmetics. Look for accredited and professionally made products to ensure your safety.

“The ingredients mentioned are not necessarily going to be bad for children if used at the correct, stipulated guidelines, but if you use it at exposure limits higher than guided, it is going to be harmful for sure.”

Are there stages where children should steer clear of certain products?

According to Pretorius, children don’t necessarily need to avoid beauty products after birth. However, pregnant women should stay away from ingredients like retinol and salicylic acid, as these can harm the developing baby.

How do the current rules safeguard children from harmful beauty products?

Pretorius explained: “There is a law requiring manufacturers to prove their products are safe, but it’s not strictly enforced. The beauty industry largely regulates itself, putting more responsibility on consumers to do their homework.”

To stay safe, consumers should check where the product is made. Is the facility licensed by bodies like SAPRA or CTFA? Who is behind the brand? Do they belong to professional societies or attend industry conferences?

By digging into these details, you can spot companies that focus more on marketing than on safety and compliance.

“Always verify a product's credentials before purchasing,” she said.

How can parents identify and choose safer beauty product options for their children?

She said they have to evaluate the source. Only use hypoallergenic ingredients.

Can you recommend any natural or safer alternatives to common beauty products marketed towards children?

“We like to use the word ‘natural’ but natural also means organic, and natural and organic doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is going to be gentle on a child’s skin.

“For instance, we like to use products that are extracted from botanicals, however, opium poppy is also a botanical (a plant extract) but yet it’s an opioid.

“So we should be careful when using the word ‘natural’ because it does not necessarily mean that it’s not going to be harmful for a child. Salicylic acid also comes from the bark of a tree but when used at the wrong concentrations it can be harmful,” she said.

What are the top beauty products or ingredients that children should avoid?

“I would say avoid products that contain parabens, high concentrations of retinol, salicylic acid, self-tanning products, products containing high concentration acids, acetone, peroxide ingredients (such as those in hair dye) etc,” she said.

Which ingredients are safe?

“Definitely peptides, ceramides, glycerine-type ingredients, niacinamide (vitamin B’s) and sunscreen.

“We always want to encourage the use of high SPF sunscreens – remember we live south of the equator so we are exposed to more UVB rays. Look for a high concentration of zinc and titanium in the product – these ingredients are gentle on a child’s skin and will keep the skin protected,” Pretorius added.