Many are aware that the skin is the largest organ of our bodies. Surprisingly though, not many are aware that certain ingredients used in products such as disposable diapers, can potentially cause harm being in direct contact with the skin. A whopping 95% of parents in the US choose disposable diapers primarily because that's the most convenient option, and we don't blame them. However, that means the vast majority of babies (for the first two-three years of their life) will be wearing throwaway diapers 24/7 on their new, highly sensitive skin... that likely contain harmful chemicals.
Are Disposable Diapers Safe?
US regulations regarding the ingredients and manufacturing of disposable diapers are vague, leaving much to the manufacturer to freely produce products without many limitations. Additionally, the Consumer Products Safety Commission and other regulatory bodies do not require disposable diaper manufacturers to disclose what is in their product on their packaging.
Brands are also not held accountable for ensuring that their products are free from certain known or potentially harmful ingredients, materials, or processes that have been linked to various health concerns. Due to consumers demanding more transparency, many brands are now feeling the pressure and providing more disclosure on their diaper labels. In order to appeal, companies may market their products as "organic, natural diapers", "clean and conscious" diapers, or other general greenwashing marketing terminology to make their products seem better. In turn, this makes it more challenging for the majority of consumers to determine whether a product poses any risk or not, on top of trying to understand an ingredient list when they aren't scientists or researchers by trade.
Being health and eco-conscious parents, radical transparency is one of the principles DYPER was founded upon. "The world doesn't need another diaper, it needs a better diaper", the Founder and CEO of DYPER, Sergio Radovcic has proclaimed for years.
Long before creating a safer and more eco friendly disposable diaper, we started down this better diapering journey by asking "what are disposable diapers made of?". It's been a restless pursuit, and by no means are we perfect, but we're happy to be able to provide parents with a better solution when searching for the best diaper for a baby's sensitive skin.
Here's a list we put together of potentially dangerous materials frequently found in other disposable diapers.
The Dangers of Disposable Diapers
1. Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP)
Possibly the most important component of a disposable diaper is the absorbent core. This usually takes the form of tiny crystals of sodium polyacrylate. Depending on the manufacturer, these crystals go by various names. Absorbent Gel Material (AGM), Hydrogel, or polyacrylate absorbents. Super absorbent polymers (SAPs) can absorb up to thirty times their weight in liquid.
The trouble with polyacrylate absorbents is that almost all of them are petroleum-based, made with or from using crude oil. During the manufacturing process of these gelling agents, they may become contaminated with the likes of acrylamide and acrylic acid. These pose a threat to human and environmental health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) observed that acrylic acid is a skin and eye irritant and the National Toxicology Program classifies acrylamide as a potential carcinogen, meaning that it can cause certain types of cancer.
Perfumes or fragrances are sometimes added to disposable diapers to distract from the smell of a soiled diaper. The perfume of a particular product can be regarded as a trade secret or special proprietary formula. Therefore, companies do not have to disclose the individual compounds that make up their unique fragrance. A single fragrance in a product can comprise hundreds of scent chemicals. In fact, there are up to 4000 different chemicals that can be hidden from consumers under the blanket term “fragrance”. Scary stuff.
Fragrance chemicals are often shown to cause breathing difficulties and asthma attacks. Other allergic reactions such as contact dermatitis and headaches have been reported, all because of what is used within that fragrance.
Dyes in disposable diapers are generally used to make the trendy prints that many parents find so attractive. Changing diapers is not exactly a fun task, so it's completely understandable that you'd want something pretty to look at when doing so.
In most cases, printed diapers can cause more harm than good. The most dangerous dyes are those that contain heavy metals such as lead. When any of these make contact with the skin, they can cause irritation, contact dermatitis, diaper rash, and worse. Make sure you read the label carefully. Some of the terms that manufacturers like to include on their diaper packaging are: disperse dyes, colorants, inks, pigments, and so on.
Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to increase their elasticity, transparency, and durability. These are usually present in the plastic waterproof outer lining of disposable diapers. Phthalates are not tightly bonded to the plastics. Therefore, they leach into the air and liquids, which may have harmful effects on your baby’s developing reproductive and endocrine systems.
US regulations do not require disclosure of phthalates on the packaging. Therefore, unless a brand such as DYPER explicitly states that their product is phthalate-free, it most likely isn’t.
To increase absorbency, most diaper manufacturers include some sort of wood pulp in the inner absorbent core of the diaper. To make the fibers soft and white and more absorbent, the pulp is bleached. Traditionally, this bleaching process made use of elemental chlorine. The process leads to the formation of dioxins, and the EPA states that dioxins are of the most toxic chemicals known to science. They are known to be carcinogenic. Also, dioxins that end up in our oceans pose a huge threat to aquatic life.
Fortunately, there are safer alternatives to this bleaching process. More common whitening processes in use today make use of elemental chlorine-free (ECF) and total chlorine-free (TCF) techniques. Due to the public demand for safer disposable diapering products, many long-time manufacturers have been forced to make the switch and create safer "sensitive skin" or "pure" diaper product lines that do not use elemental chlorine in the production process.
6. Tributyl-tin (TBT)
Tributyl-tin is most often found in a diaper’s top sheet and adhesive tapes. TBT is widely used in manufacturing processes as a catalyst or PVC heat stabilizer. TBT is a pollutant that does not decay. It lingers in our environment and food chains. The EPA warns that TBT is extremely harmful to aquatic life.
7. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Most disposable diapers contain VOCs. Extended exposure to high concentrations of VOCs can result in damage to the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. According to the EPA, some VOCs may even be carcinogenic.
This may be a shocker, but your disposable diapers contain a lot of plastic. Typically, disposable diapers are made with a polypropylene (pp) inner lining and a polyethylene (pe) outer layer, both being petroleum-based plastics. The inner absorbent core also usually includes a superabsorbent polymer such as sodium polyacrylate. As with any petroleum-based plastics, there is a concern about chemical leaching.
For your typical disposable diaper containing these materials, it contains around 24 grams of petroleum-based plastic. This is around the equivalent of two or more plastic water bottles per diaper. That can add up throwing away the same amount of plastic as 20 plastic bottles (or more) when considering the average parent changes 8-10 diapers per day.
While plastic bottles are relatively easy to recycle, soiled disposable diapers are not. Because they aren't biodegradable or compostable on their own, prior to REDYPER™, parents have been forced to throw them away in the trash, contributing to the third-largest waste problem in the US.
What Does Biodegradable Mean?
A biodegradable product is able to break down into its most basic components (water, carbon dioxide, and organic materials) by the natural action of micro-organisms such as fungi and bacteria. By regulatory trade standards, a biodegradable product should be able to return to its natural state within one year. This process should not be harmful to the environment in any way either. No diapers, cloth or disposable, are biodegradable by that definition since they cannot break down entirely on their own or return to their natural state before processing. Even compostable products do not always biodegrade naturally, especially in a landfill.
What Happens to Disposable Diapers in Landfills
It is estimated to take four to five centuries for a standard disposable diaper to break down in a landfill. Even if a disposable diaper is advertised as being biodegradable or compostable, and still ends up in a landfill, it will likely still be a while before it breaks down. Even once it does, any leftover plastic portions will remain intact and still contribute to the large waste problem that disposable diapers come with. And soiled diapers are also responsible for introducing pathogens into their surroundings. These pathogens can make their way into water sources and in turn, pollute our drinking water.
How to Choose the Best Disposable Diaper
As parents, we want the best for our children, including kind products. Finding products labeled as being primarily made with plants that are responsibly-sourced, free from harmful chemicals, and compostable are typically a great indication that they are safe for our babies and the planet.
It can also be important to look deeper at a diaper brand and its mission as a company. When doing so, it's important to do a little research and assess whether a brand is completely transparent about the list of ingredients, materials, and the methods that comprise their product offerings. Generally, diaper brands that conduct independent testing and have environmentally-friendly and safety certifications are also great indicators. When choosing diapers that are going to be spending so much time on your baby's soft skin, here are a few more important things to look out for on diaper labels:
- Dye-Free (that means no prints)
- PVC Free
- Chlorine-Free Fluff Pulp
- No Optical Brighteners
The Diaper That Is Kind
At DYPER, we produce our diapers without harsh processes and in a way that is kind to the environment as well as on your baby’s skin. In other words, our diapers are made without the common harsh chemicals found in other diapers including phthalates, latex, lotions, TBT’s, parabens, dyes, and fragrances. Our diapers are also certified Standard 100 by OEKO TEX. OEKO-TEX is an independent testing body that tests the safety of every single element that makes up a textile product. Standard 100 is the highest certification achievable for a textile.
Reduce What You Can And Offset What You Can't
Our diapers are also made with plant-based and responsibly sourced materials that are Certified OK biobased by TUV Austria. This certification guarantees that the product is produced from sustainable and renewable sources.
The production of petroleum-based plastics uses substantial amounts of energy and simultaneously releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. This is why DYPER manufactures diapers using the minimal amount possible of 6 grams and biobased. Additionally, we purchase carbon offsets to offset our environmental impact from sourcing to production, and for every single delivery.
And through our add-on REDYPER™ pickup and ship-back services, you can opt-in to return your used diapers to DYPER for composting at our specialized professional composting facilities. Instead of your baby’s dirty diapers sitting in a landfill, they will be put to good use as compost in projects such as filling in highway medians.
Ways You Can Help Change The World
As we have felt the demand to take measures into our own hands to create an environmentally kind diaper, many parents have also asked how they can get involved. There are several ways one can help, including:
- Policing brands and manufacturers by asking them to disclose their ingredients or hire independent testing bodies.
- Reaching out to local and federal elected officials to push for safer legislation and tighten up US product regulations.
- Vote with your dollars and make purchases from brands you have vetted for doing good for people and the planet.
Every effort, no matter how small, makes a difference toward creating a better future for our little ones. We hope you'll find DYPER the best fit for your baby. And if you don't, reach out and let us know your thoughts! We're continuously working toward making our diaper the best, most responsible, and favored diapering option accessible to all families.
Shop DYPER today and help change the world one diaper change at a time.