What kind of bubble bath should we buy?

Driving home on late Saturday/early Sunday, listening to NPR’s “Living on Earth” program, I heard a story about the chemical dioxane (or more fully, 1,4-dioxane) being found in children’s shampoos and bubble baths as a byproduct of the manufacturing process. Dioxane is banned in Europe as a carcinogen. The FDA limit is 0.5 parts per million. Several products (including some which the program alleged were being recalled) contained much higher concentrations. The part that made me take notice was the Hello Kitty Bubble Bath, with 12 ppm, the highest of any of the children’s products tested. One guess which bubble bath we buy for Sammy. In the car, I was horrified. The thought of Sammy developing cancer because of a bubble bath.

Reading LOE’s online version of their story, the press release that led to the story, the lab results, and a cancer blog entry that covered the story, my thinking has changed a bit. The story certainly brings up valid points, and it’s important to know the F.D.A. doesn’t test health and beauty products, including children’s shampoos, soaps and bath products. And honestly, it’s terrible that the maker of the shampoo is spending a huge amount on licensing Hello Kitty but wouldn’t spend a relatively small amount to remove dioxane from its product. If they’ve actually recalled it (which I couldn’t prove) then maybe there’s something going on here. But realistically, I suspect that 12 parts per million of this particular chemical are probably not worth worrying about, especially after diluted in the bath. On the other hand, who wants to voluntarily expose their child to a carcinogen?

I’m not a chemist. After a few hours of research, I became frustrated. I didn’t see any balanced web sites that honestly assessed the safety of children’s products without bias from a manufacturer. The test results are very specific: These five products had this much dioxane. But ok, what bubble bath is safe and I should buy instead? Where’s the invisible hand when you need it? Is this the F.D.A.’s job or isn’t it?

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