• Holly Arnold

The Highly Toxic Chemicals Lurking In Your Kid's Toys + How To Avoid Gifting Them At Christmas.


When buying children’s toys and gifts, we think about what our child is interested in or base our choices on current toy trends. We might check to see there are no potential physical hazards like choking or sharp edges, but how many of you would think to check what chemicals the product may contain? While the chemicals in children’s toys don’t pose a sudden threat, the long term effects are alarming. Few of us seem to consider these dangers when making their purchases, which is most likely a result of us assuming that someone has checked that these products are safe for children. The legislation is very complicated, but for most countries (including Australia) there are lots of loopholes surrounding what information manufacturers have to disclose regarding the chemicals that are used to create or that are in the final product sold. Given all the chemical loopholes, we currently can’t rely on regulations to stop manufacturers using these chemicals as they don’t legally have to tell them what they are using. If a certain chemical substance is banned, a very similar one can be created and used in its' place, which may be just as, if not more dangerous. Ultimately, it comes down to us as parents to educate ourselves on the hidden dangers of toys so we can make the right choices and avoid exposing our children to anything dangerous or potentially toxic where possible.

What Makes Children and Infants More Vulnerable To Harmful Chemicals? Several factors including size, metabolism and behaviour make infants and children far more vulnerable to harmful chemicals. From a physiological aspect, gastrointestinal absorption is greater in infants and their food, liquid and air intake are higher relative to their body weight which increases their absorption of certain chemicals. Despite their increased ability to ingest chemicals, they have a reduced detoxification capacity and can’t break down and eliminate chemicals as well as adults. Therefore, the storage and distribution of chemicals in children’s organs in much greater. Additionally, the blood-brain barrier (responsible for limiting chemicals in the blood from entering the brain) develops as we mature, resulting in potentially higher exposure to chemicals in the blood in younger children. Behaviourally, babies and children spend a lot more time on the floor, lying on mats and are always putting objects and fingers in the mouths which increases their exposure to lots of different types of chemicals.

What Are The Most Dangerous Things To Look Out For And Why?

  • Plastics (Phthalates and BPA/BPF/BPS) - In children’s toys, costume jewellery and clothing.

  • Lead & Cadmium - Costume jewellery and found in paint on wooden toys.

  • Flame Retardants - Soft toys, clothing, bedding, plastic toys and wooden toys.

  • Formaldehydes - Soft toys, wooden toys and some fabrics.

  • Dyes - Clothing, bedding, electronic toys and plastic toys.

  • Fragrance - some children’s clothing, cosmetics, toys and stationery.

  • NEPs (Nonylphenol Ethoxylates) - Clothing, bedding and soft toys.

  • Boron - Slime and jelly-like or squishy textured toys.

While the chemical complications of each substance vary, all of these chemicals have been associated with adverse health outcomes. What’s scary to me is that despite the limited amount of research that has been done on these chemicals, especially on children as a particularly vulnerable population, the links that have been made are significant. Collectively the chemicals found in many children’s toys and clothing have been linked to cancer, fertility issues in both boys and girls, thyroid disruption, and developmental problems, including brain damage and lower IQ scores.

Safer Options

  • Instead of buying lots of toys for your children or relatives this year organise an experience or activity instead. Experiences can be enjoyed the whole family and usually involve getting active and outside. You will have the memories forever and no waste.

  • Get creative with your kids. Homemade gifts for cousins, friends or themselves to play with that are free of chemicals and give them something to do on a rainy weekend. I recently made homemade ‘slime’ with the kids using this recipe and they loved it. How to info + recipe here.

  • Find safer options. There are now lots of smaller businesses opening that specialises in eco-friendly and safe toys, clothing and personal care products. My favourites are Eco Child, Hello-Charlie, Little Earth Nest and Nourished Life.

  • Wash it first. If your children receive clothing, textiles or toys for Christmas wash it in natural detergent first to make sure there are not high levels of chemicals on the products.

Additional Information

  • The EWG has lots of amazing information on its website covers everything from toys to clothing to personal care products. For more information visit: https://www.ewg.org/.

  • An interesting documentary called ‘STINK’ on Netflix that explores chemicals, perfumes and endocrine disruptors if you want to learn more.


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