“Wellness” versus “Science” and How I Feel About It
*This post was in partnership with JOHNSON’S® but all those words are my own.*
We live in a very tricky time for parenting (said every parent, ever). It’s no longer about getting sleep advice or no-fail recipes from the other parents at soccer games. It’s a daily blizzard of information, options, ideas, and products via the interweb, news, and social media. Some of the information and products are great and will hopefully lead to our kids being safer, healthier, happier, and perhaps more mentally sound than we are (ha, have you ever been on the internet?). But there is also this ambient fear-based pressure to have the best-of-the-organic-best for our kids, no matter what it costs! We are surrounded by expensive farm-raised doughnuts (with vegan sprinkles!), sugar-free, gluten-free hand sanitizers, and hydroponically farmed, vegan, non-gmo, vegetables . . . vegan vegetables! I’m joking, but it’s not always funny.
As a mom, I certainly want what is the healthiest and safest for my kids (and I know all of you who care for children do, too). Which is why it’s so easy to get wrapped up in this “high-end-organic everything-lifestyle” (keep reading for some of my own examples). And don’t get me wrong – Brian and I really try to reduce processed foods, we shop more from local farms and stores to support small businesses, and have reduced our non-local meat consumption by a lot because we don’t want to support the corporate meat industry. We are doing our best to be what in our opinion is “organic,” but this problem is way bigger than the obvious and I’m starting to get really bummed about the trend of marketing to women, specifically moms.
When JOHNSON’S® reached out to partner on this post my immediate thought was, “Oh dear. Nope, nope, nope. I smell a backlash . . . besides, haven’t I read negative things about their products?” But I read the pitch, and their messaging was compelling and their story was refreshing. They didn’t ask me to tell you to use their product, but instead to help empower you to make your own decisions about what’s best for you and your baby, feel more confident in those decisions, and unveil a few truths and misconceptions out there about them. After days of research, and working through feelings of my own fear-based chem-phobia, I learned a lot and happily agreed to do this post. I also agreed because the broader topic is something that I’ve wanted to write about for some time.
Before you think I’ve drunk some sort of baby-wash-kool-aid, I haven’t. I would never, and will never, recommend anything to you (especially your babies) that is knowingly unsafe – which is the point.
Don’t worry, I read the news too, and I also heard about how there were consumer concerns about some of the ingredients in their American baby products. But as I did research (and read this super informative New York Times article about it) I learned a few things about what the drama was really about, and more importantly what they did about it.
First off, despite what I imagined, there was no evil scientist with a huge dropper of formaldehyde maniacally sneaking it into any baby shampoo. I didn’t know this but formaldehyde is a by-product released over time from two preservatives: quaternium-15 and 1,4-dioxane. They are meant to give the product shelf-life, so the product doesn’t mold, expire, or irritate skin. JOHNSON’S® notes (as do many scientists) that formaldehyde exists naturally, like in apples, as well as our own body. They claim that a person’s formaldehyde exposure from an apple is greater than 15 bottles of their shampoo on the scalp (of the old recipe). I’m not a scientist who has done my own lab research, but I did find this interesting.
The most important part of this is that JOHNSON’S® listened to consumer concerns, and they made changes to help parents feel more comfortable. They spent tens of millions of dollars and 2 years in the lab trying to come up with a No-More-Tears® recipe that was still moisturizing, still roughly the same color/consistency, still affordable, but completely free of formaldehyde.
They listened to their consumers and went to great efforts to change. That’s pretty remarkable, folks, and even a bunch of environmental groups praised them. I think it’s super easy for us to assume that the “big guy” doesn’t care about us, but that is not always the case.
Hopefully you are still reading because I actually found this totally fascinating. I’m one that firmly believes life is full of nuances, and that there are two sides to every single story. Learning about what really happened, and how they fixed it was so satisfying and made me feel really good about buying their product.
As we shop we respond to buzz-words (organic, all-natural, GMO-free, etc.), and while there are many products where it makes a big difference, for sure, it’s not always that cut and dry (I could actually go on about this for pages and pages, about how “organic” often just means using a different pesticide that isn’t yet tested, or farmed in places where they don’t have standards but they have organic stickers, etc.). But we are more and more programmed to buy whatever package is the prettiest, with the best font, and includes the most of these buzzwords.
In my opinion there are two forces at work – A large “parenting industry” which didn’t exist 30 years ago, and this new “wellness” movement. Together they have created the “Modern Mom” tax (if you aren’t a parent, you are paying it too in all other products, it’s just particularly insidious with parents). More moms are working now than ever before, and many families would rather sacrifice their money to buy a so called “guilt-free” product than sacrifice their time to research it. We are one of those families, and I am “that mom.” A reason I appreciate JOHNSON’S® is that they are taking into account that parents want the best for their children by improving their products while still keeping them at a reasonable price point, making the movement approachable and doable. They are a part of the “wellness” movement in a positive way because “wellness” should be a POSITIVE thing, and so much of it is. However there are undeniable pressures that come along with it.
Here’s a good example: When Charlie was 3 months old he went on a nursing strike, of which he won (NO MORE BOOB! NO MORE BOOB!). After miserably pumping for 3 more months I could pump no more, so I painfully switched him to formula. I knew, intellectually, it wasn’t a big deal but I felt REALLY guilty about it anyway. There was, and still is, a lot of propaganda/information about formula being full of this or that, and that your child will surely fail out of high school and never find love if that milky powder grazes his or her lips. So what could I do but buy what I was told was “THE BEST FORMULA IN THE WORLD”? It’s imported from Germany, where the cows are fed angel tears and massaged by the wings of butterflies . . . Although, ironically, I couldn’t exactly know what was in that precious formula, because nothing on the box was in English and I didn’t have time to go online and read about it. I had to buy it on eBay and it cost $40 a box. It felt, and was, very elitist.
Listen, I ate Miracle Whip sandwiches as a child (white bread, miracle whip, white bread – not a meal prepared for me by my mom, by the way) so I’m not a food elitist. The point is that I had no idea what was in the box, I just bought it. Do I regret it? No, it was good formula and I’m happy that more and more formulas without cornstarch or as many additives are coming to market. But I did regret how much I let my “first time mom fear” dominate my purchases.
Now, more than ever, we are trying to make choices for our family based on information, science, and research, not marketing. My favorite thing to do is read a certain high end celebrity womens’ site, and then read this doctor’s response to whatever new fear and subsequent product they are selling to combat this insidious new problem. The wellness movement is having quite the backlash right now, and it’s because women, like me, are getting exhausted by the fear based articles that are selling us really expensive “toxin-free” products that aren’t scientifically researched. I’m not saying the products aren’t good for us, I just don’t want marketing to trump science and for us to be the fools supporting it.
JOHNSON’S® explained their research approach to me, and it helped me think more clearly about how I prioritize what I need in my children’s products. They start by researching baby’s skin to understand what’s different about it, and what it might need. For example, they’ve learned that babies’ skin is thinner than adults – they say it’s like an orange versus a grape. An orange membrane is far thinner, like our babies’ skin, while adults’ skin is thicker, like a grape, and can withstand more. They then test all the ingredients they want to use, natural or non-natural, because what’s most important is that it is safe – no ingredient gets a free pass. Just because it’s “all natural” or “all organic” does not mean that it’s not going to irritate babies’ skin.
There is one nameless ‘all-natural’ brand who basically re-named a particular combination of ingredients (otherwise known as a ‘chemical’) with the word ‘coca’ in it, so that the ingredient list would look less chemical-y. There is another nameless organic brand who had to do a recall because mold was found in their baby product. That same brand’s sunscreen gives Birdie a really bad rash. The point is, finding the right formula that is safe and moisturizing for baby skin is not as easy as it is for grownups, and that has been JOHNSON’S® goal – babies.
In addition to that, they offer a page on their website called Behind the Label – it very simply and clearly explains what their ingredients are doing in the formula (for example – the scary-sounding Behentrimonium Chloride adds moisture to skin and hair.) On top of that, they use standard International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients language to describe their ingredients, so you can easily research further on your own.
This whole post is not me telling you to drop your high end, organic baby shampoo and buy the more affordable JOHNSON’S® product. We should all do whatever we feel is best for our family and what makes us the most comfortable (and again, if you can afford to buy everything from local farmers and vendors please do – we need to support them as much as we can). In a perfect world we would grow our own food, sew our own clothes, and make our own soap, right? But, am I now comfortable using JOHNSON’S® products on my kids? Yes.
My un-scientific question to you is, are any of you sick of paying the “Modern Mom” or “Modern Woman” tax? It’s not just for moms, it’s beauty, supplements, fashion, etc. In LA that tax is even higher, and it’s everywhere, so I’m curious if the bubble that we live in is spreading across the US or if we are particularly exposed to this . . .
*This post was in partnership with JOHNSON’S® but all those words are my own.
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