A Big Myth About The Skin Care Products You Use On Your Kids

With inflation driving up the cost of everyday items, many families are trying to find ways to save on regular expenses. It can be nice for every family member to have brands of their own in the bathroom, but products designed for babies and kids can be pricey. And if you’re giving multiple kids daily baths, you may be running through products quickly — particularly if the kids are squeezing body wash out of bottles on their own!

How necessary is it for the youngest members of the family to have their own skin care products? Could we all simplify and save by purchasing just a few gentle formulas for the whole family to use?

What’s the difference between baby/kid and adult products?

“There are no specific guidelines [on] what makes a product for kids,” Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, a board-certified pediatrician, told HuffPost.

Absent guidelines, are there actual differences between kids’ products and adult products?

Dr. Jessica Hui, a pediatric allergist and immunologist at Jewish Health in Denver, told HuffPost that “it largely depends on the specific product and those main ingredients. The answer ranges from barely any difference to large differences.”

It’s important to notice if ingredients differ between kid and adult versions.

“Many kids’ products may be the same as adult formulations but with different packaging, or added color or even ‘baby smell’ fragrances,” Trachtenberg said.

“Just because it says ‘for children’ doesn’t necessarily mean a better or more appropriate product,” she added.

It’s true that babies’ and kids’ skin is often more sensitive and thinner than older kids’ and adults’ skin, but that doesn’t limit you to using only products that have the word “baby” on them.

What are some things to look for in products that babies/kids will use?

Trachtenberg recommends “gentle cleanser and not soap, as it’s much harsher and drying.”

She mentioned Dove, Cetaphil, Vanicream and CeraVe as gentle adult products without dyes or fragrances that kids can use, too.

Trachtenberg recommends a moisturizer with ceramides, which are the fats or lipids found in your skin cells that help your skin retain moisture.

They’re “naturally found in the healthy skin barrier,” explained Hui.

“Sunscreen is important, too,” Trachtenberg said, and “not much different than what adults need.”

Some parents prefer to use mineral rather than chemical sunscreens for their kids, as the FDA has generally recognized them as safe and effective. There is also evidence that chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the bloodstream, although we don’t know if this exposure poses a risk. But mineral sunscreens, sometimes called physical (rather than chemical) blockers, work perfectly well for parents, too.

Hui noted that the protective ingredient in sunscreen, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide (for mineral sunscreens), is the same for adults and children, yet “the ones marketed for children are always more expensive.”

“Personally, my young daughter uses the same sunscreen that I do,” added Hui.

What ingredients should you avoid?

In addition to soap, Trachtenberg recommends avoiding fragrance, dyes, formaldehyde and parabens in products for your little ones, as well as propylene glycol, which “can cause skin contact rashes and hives.”

“Sometimes baby products can actually be more irritating, as the fragrances added to baby products are common contact allergens in people with sensitive skin,” Hui said.

“I most often check for added fragrances and dyes,” Hui said. “Fragrances and dyes are easy ingredients to see —and smell! — on the packaging.”

She added that some adult products are designed to exfoliate, and those can be too harsh for babies’ and kids’ skin.

Allergens are a concern, but they differ for everybody regardless of age. If any member of your family has issues with specific ingredients, you’ll need to figure out which ones they are and avoid them.

“The top contact allergens” include “fragrances, preservatives, lanolin, and cocamidopropyl betaine — to name a few,” Hui said. “This does not mean that you must avoid all of these common allergens, but more so if you or your child has skin irritation [as a result of] one of these ingredients.”

Are more expensive products — for kids or adults — better?

“Often, child products may have added fragrances and colors and expensive packaging to allure parents and kids,” none of which is necessary to make the product effective, Trachtenberg said.

Sometimes, products cost more when they have additional beneficial ingredients — like ceramides and others. But drugstore brands can be just as effective as name brands for kids and adults, Hui said.

And there’s no harm in adults using products designed for kids, though Hui noted that “if an adult requires a more exfoliating product, then a baby/kid product likely will not provide that.”

But if what you’re looking for is a gentle, moisturizing product?

“It is certainly possible for the whole family to use the same products,” Hui said.