When Pune-based Akanksha Mehendale's baby was eight months old, she thought of giving organic skincare products a try. Many of her peers were already using numerous organic products and were happy with the result. "The skin is the largest organ of the body. So naturally, I wanted the best for my baby, not to mention the safest option," she says. From taking the elders' advice, talking to her peer group, to even going online, Mehendale left no stone unturned to find the right product for her toddler. While the senior generation suggested the tried and tested homemade and natural products, for example, pure oil massages, ubtans and the like, most of her peer group suggested going organic was the best way. So, in a dilemma, Mehendale approached her paediatrician.
Dr Sneha R Srotreya was very emphatic about sticking to homemade and natural old-school products. When the new mom suggested that most of her friends were happy with organic variants in the market, she scoffed at the idea. "How would you know for sure that the stuff you are buying off the shelves is organic?" the doctor said. "There's no way to confirm that the ingredients are produced and sourced organically," she pointed out.
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Armed with her Google research, Mehendale pointed out that a November 2021 report on the global baby cleanser & body wash market (2021 to 2026) says the organic product market is expected to reach a value of USD 3,885.80 million. She also pointed out how the global organic baby shampoo market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.8% from 2020 to 2027.
Srotreya was unimpressed. She responded by pointing out that a US government October 2021 report claimed that leading baby food brands contain high levels of toxic heavy metals like arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. These chemicals are linked to permanent dips in IQ and damaged long-term brain function. She added that the report mentioned an organic baby foods manufacturer, pointing out that the food had very high inorganic arsenic, lead, and cadmium levels. "If strictly regulated organic baby foods are not safe, how can you expect other baby products to be safe?" she asked. Her doctor's argument was enough to make Mehendale choose homemade and natural products for her baby.
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But makers of baby products beg to differ. "Organic products are the way forward now," says Kangna Kakar, co-founder of Wabi Babi, a personal care brand focused on mothers and newborns. New mothers' typically struggle to find the right product for their babies, points out Kakar. "A few things that can be kept in mind to determine that the products are natural are if they are paraben-free and silicon-free," she says. Also, if there is a fragrance, one needs to check whether it is IFRA-certified and whether natural ingredients are used to formulate the product.
The question, however, remains, 'are organic products really safe and do they benefit babies?' As per reports published by Mayo Clinic, US, though parents nowadays choose organic products for their babies, they do not really provide significant benefits. Moreover, it argues that though organic produce indeed carries significantly fewer pesticide residues than conventional produce, research hasn't shown them to be better and the safest option.
However, Simone Khambatta, a mother of two, swears by organic products for her kids. "They are toxin-free, paraben-free and environment-friendly with no extra additives that may harm the baby," she explains. Anirudh Dharmagadi, who heads business for goodnessme, which claims to be India's only certified organic baby skincare brand, must agree. "Products containing ingredients that come from natural sources can be labelled natural, but they may not be organically produced. This means they contain preservatives and chemicals or have been grown using pesticides. Even worse, product makers only have to include 0.01 per cent of ingredients that are 'natural' to be able to market the product as such. Organic, as we know, is the purest form of nature, grown without any harmful chemicals, synthetic pesticides, or fertilisers."
A report published in Pediatrics in Review, an official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in June this year stated that due to the widespread perception that organic products are healthier and safer, parents might feel compelled to buy organic despite the cost being on average 10-40 per cent more expensive than conventional products. Authored by Sumathyuthee Kamalakannan and Irène P Mathieu, the study claims that there is currently limited evidence for organic foods' nutritional superiority or the safety of such products.
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Dr Srotreya counters that it is not an absolute no-no should some parents prefer organic products. "The fact that few people follow an exclusively organic lifestyle complicate studies to assess the health impact of organic products," she says. "To be honest, it is still early to claim that organic is the best way forward."
Mehendale is adhering to homemade treatments for massage and slight ailments. "I have realised that babies need to be exposed to a natural lifestyle that doesn't inhibit them health-wise. If we stick to organic in the growing-up years, I can't say for sure whether the system will take to 'normal' products once the baby grows up. After all, for most of us, organic is still not a way of life,"' she reasons.
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