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Organic, hypoallergenic, paraben-free – they all sound good, but here’s what the common phrases on your family’s skincare really mean

Once you get pregnant or have a newborn, chances are you’ll start looking at the packaging of your usual toiletries with renewed interest. It’s important to find the right products for your changing body or your baby’s delicate skin, but some labels can be misleading. What exactly is a paraben? And what does the word ‘hypoallergenic’ actually mean?

Here’s how to crack the code and work out what products are best for you and your family – and if you’re still not sure, don’t forget you can ask your Tesco pharmacist for help.

What’s on the label?

1. “Paraben free”

Parabens are preservatives found in sun creams, deodorants and most cosmetics. They’re found in baby toiletries too – their job is to stop bacteria and mould growing that could harm your baby.

So should you go paraben-free? The EU have strict regulations on the amount of parabens allowed, which means products sold in the UK should be safe for your family. Some people have a topical sensitivity to parabens, and others are mindful as parabens are still an area being researched, even though there are currently no confirmed risks. There are plenty of alternatives though, especially for babies whose skin is more sensitive. These will be labelled ‘paraben free’, like this Earth Friendly body wash.

2. “Dermatologically tested” and “Hypoallergenic”

These common phrases can be misunderstood. Dermatologically tested simply means the product has been tested on skin by a dermatologist. Hypoallergenic is generally used on packaging to mean a product that causes fewer allergic reactions.. They might not have specific tests or definitions, but products with these on the label are generally good places to start if you’re looking for gentle cleansing that’s less likely to irritate skin.

3. “For sensitive skin”

This phrase usually means that a product is free from common allergens. Even if you’ve never had it before, it’s common to get sensitive skin during pregnancy because of hormone changes and your skin stretching. If you have sensitive skin, or you’re shopping for a young baby whose skin is likely to be more sensitive, then these sort of toiletries might be less likely to cause a reaction. As everyone’s skin is different – and reacts to different things – you can’t guarantee that a product for sensitive skin won’t irritate yours. It’s best to try different products until you find one that works for you.

4. “Tear-free”

You might see the phrase ‘tear-free’ on baby bath products. This means it’s less likely to cause a stinging reaction if it gets in your little one’s eyes. Don’t worry, it’s not because they contain numbing agents as urban legend might have you believe. Tear-free shampoos just have a different chemical formula to adult versions. It makes them slightly less foamy and effective at removing oils, but they are far less irritating to eyes. Johnson’s and Tesco Loves Baby shampoos both contain tear-free formulas.

5. “Organic”

Shopping for organic toiletries isn’t as straightforward as shopping for organic groceries.  Unlike food, there’s no legal definition of ‘organic’ when it comes to cosmetics. If you like to buy organic, then think about checking independent certification lists like the one on the Soil Association’s website.

6. “Free from chemicals”

Whether natural or man-made, all ingredients are chemicals – even water – so no product can claim to be chemical free. The Royal Society of Chemistry is even offering £1 million for the first person to find a chemical-free product! Instead, look out for more descriptive phrases like ‘free from harsh chemicals’ or ‘no artificial fragrances or colours’.

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