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Super-absorbent diapers are a fantastic invention, saving parents hours upon hours of time, laundry loads, and stinky clean-ups. (Just ask your grandparents.) But they?re also the source of much controversy and angst. Baby Dry or Cruisers? Eco-friendly or regular? Pull-ups or unassembled? To make matters more complicated, now there?s Honest, a diaper and baby product company founded by actress Jessica Alba in 2012, which claims that it makes ?safer? diapers. Cue immediate feelings of parental paranoia: Wait, safer diapers? Are other diapers dangerous? To help you answer those questions, the Honest website devotes a page to describing just how scary traditional diapers really are, with questions about diaper companies like, ?What are they trying to hide?? (Answer: ?From what we gleaned, a lot.?)
Honest diapers carry a hefty price tag?a bundle of 276 of their size 1 diapers and 280 wipes costs $79.95, but $66.98 will buy you the same number of Huggies size 1 diapers, along with 448 Huggies wipes, on Diapers.com. And tests conducted by BabyGearLab, a pediatrician-run baby gear review and comparison site, suggest that Honest diapers don?t work nearly as well as other diapers do. Yet progressive parents everywhere are going gaga over Honest. Are regular old diapers really that risky?and Honest ones so much less so?to warrant shelling out the extra cash for a leaky product?
Probably not. Research suggests that diapers, regardless of brand, are very safe. Yes, some children will be allergic to certain diaper components, which I?ll get into below, and for them, brands like Honest and Seventh Generation could be preferable. And yes, companies don?t always openly disclose ingredients on diaper boxes. But industry scientists describe many diaper ingredients (and diaper safety testing protocols) in the scientific literature. And many vocal parents and media outlets have misconstrued the small body of research on diaper ingredients to make diapers seem far more dangerous than they probably are. There?s no question that Honest diapers, as well as those made by Seventh Generation, Earth?s Best and several other ?green? companies, are better for the environment than traditional diapers because their cores aren?t bleached with chlorine (a process that pollutes and requires a lot of energy) and because they use some plant-based materials in place of petroleum-based chemicals. But if you?re buying Honest because you think those other diapers will sicken your child, you?re probably being duped. (I reached out to the Honest company several times to get their take on the matter, but despite the promise of an interview, they would not arrange one in time for my deadline, which is kind of funny given that one of the company?s eight core principles is to provide ?incredible service.?)
One of the common claims about traditional diapers is that the chlorine they use leaves traces of byproducts called dioxins behind on the diaper, which could increase your child?s risk of cancer. It?s true that dioxins are carcinogens, and it?s also true that dioxins can be found on diapers. But to put things in perspective, a 2002 study that analyzed dioxin levels in four types of diapers didn?t find the most potent known dioxin (2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin) in any of the diapers tested. The researchers did, however, find other dioxins in both the cloth and the disposable diapers, at similar levels?yet overall, the levels were 30,000 to 2.2 million times lower than the amounts infants and toddlers get from food or breast milk. (The study found dioxins in tampons, too, at higher levels than in diapers, but still at far lower levels than what we get from food.) So your baby might be exposed to dioxins from diapers, but he?ll get them from cloth diapers too?and overall, they contribute only a minuscule amount to our total daily exposure.
Another diaper concern has been over the beads of super-absorbent material that have been used in diapers since the 1980s to make them wonderfully pee-absorbent. This polymer, sodium polyacrylate, absorbs 300 times its weight in tap water via osmosis?quite a marvel of modern chemistry. Some websites claim that sodium polyacrylate can cause skin irritation, but according to the chemical?s material safety data sheet, that?s only if you?re exposed to the dust of the chemical during the manufacturing process, and the irritation is a direct result of the chemical?s drying power. Some of the fear of sodium polyacrylate arose because it was removed from tampons in the 1980s after links to toxic shock syndrome, but most experts believe that it wasn?t the chemical that was the problem?it was the fact that women were wearing tampons for days at a time, creating a moist, warm breeding ground for bacteria (eww). Note that Honest diapers contain this polymer, too.