A new line of Dove products is making claims to nourish a baby’s microbiome. This claim should bring up some questions as a consumer. I feel that a lot of times, companies will glob on to the newest health buzzwords that are circulating through the culture at the time to sell a product. Whether it’s ‘organic smart water’, ‘gluten-free eggs’, or ‘Non-GMO toilet paper’, “sales people learned ages ago that science sells, so labels and ads often use scientific terms” - Harvard Medical School. I am not saying that the words and concepts themselves such as “organic,” “gluten-free” and “Non-GMO” are not beneficial health choices, but they need to be scrutinized properly if they are to be considered a viable addition to the product they are attached to. I think it is important to research any and all health claims that are touted by a company who sometimes is more interested in the bottom line than the health outcomes of their products. So before delving into if these Dove products work and how, let’s unpack some terminology.
What is a microbiome? On your skin and in your body live trillions of different bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. Before you go and run for the nearest hand sanitizer or antibiotic, realize that these “germs” coexist with us in a healthy symbiotic relationship. Half of the cells that are found in and on you are not “your” cells at all, but are in fact thousands of different microorganism species. When we break down the word microbiome, we see that “micro” means “small or minute” and “-biome” means “a major ecological community type (such as tropical rainforest, grassland, or desert)” Just how a tropical rain forest is made up of thousands of different organisms working in harmony with each other to ultimately benefit the whole environment, your own human cells form an ecological community with different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites to benefit the human body. New scientific research is now labeling the microbiome as a supporting organ of your body. The research is showing how the microbiome supports and promotes a lot of our human functions such as digestion and immunity.
What I find most fascinating about the microbiome is that the microorganisms that make up the microbiome, or microbiota, are completely unique for each person. Your microbiome is different than my microbiome, similar to how your fingerprint is unique to you alone. The external microbiome is first initiated during our delivery as we travel through the birth canal and the internal microbiome is first established through the drinking of our mother’s breast milk. This first exposure is completely dependant on the microbiota found in your mother.
As we develop, so does our microbiome develop through different positive or negative environmental, dietary, and stress responses. The microbiome consists of both potentially harmful microorganisms and helpful microorganisms. A higher population of the “bad” can lead to negative effects of sickness and susceptibility to disease processes. In a healthy or balanced microbiome, a symbiotic relationship occurs between all the “good” and “bad” microbiota and health can be maintained. The scale can be tipped in the negative through poor diet choices, compromised immunity, stress, antibiotic overuse and other over-sterilization procedures. Ways to promote a healthy microbiome is to eat and consume probiotic and prebiotic rich foods, beneficial stress coping mechanisms, and decreasing the use of general antimicrobial products to name a few.
The details surrounding the microbiome is new, but the overall conversation of “nurture/nature” “environment/heredity” or “soil/seed” when it comes to health and disease is not. Nurturing the soil of the environment might be a newly accepted concept by the mainstream medical community, but it is nothing new to Chiropractic. “While other professions are concerned with changing the environment to suit the weakened body, chiropractic is concerned with strengthening the body to suit the environment.” - BJ Palmer
Before answering what a Prebiotic is, it would actually be better to define a Probiotic first. A probiotic is a microorganism, usually either a bacteria or yeast, that is beneficial for the body and its microbiome. These “good” microorganisms help maintain or improve the other "good" microorganisms in the body. The greater ratio of “good” to “bad” bacterium help keep the proper balance of the microbiome. This healthy balance comes down to real estate. If the “good” bacteria are in higher numbers, they will take up more space on the skin and in the digestive tract, thus preventing the “bad” bacteria from overpopulating. For example: Let’s say you take an Antibiotic one day when you feel ill. Antibiotics are designed to kill any and all bacteria they come across by disrupting their cell wall and DNA structure. As of yet, there is no such thing as a ‘probiotic sparing antibiotic”. So as the antibiotic passing through your digestive tract, a large percentage of the bacteria, both the “good” and the “bad” get wiped out. This now creates a two-pronged problem. The majority of the more aggressive “bad” bacteria have started to create an immunity to antibiotics. They have learned through their fast reproduction rates, to strengthen their cell walls so the antibiotics can’t penetrate them. So as the antibiotic passes through the digestive system killing off their “bacterial estate competition”, they survive unscathed. They now have more space to repopulate and spread their domain. This throws off the normal balance and can create not just illness, but disease. I will expand on this further in another podcast in the future, but a majority of illnesses we take antibiotics for are actually viral and nature. Antibiotics don’t effect viruses at all.
So what is a Prebiotic? Prebiotics are the nutrients for the bacterium of the microbiome. Prebiotics are usually high in fiber and act as food for the human microflora. Foods that are high in prebiotics include oats, barley, onions, garlic, and asparagus. Prebiotics help improve the balance of the microbiome by keeping the “good” bacteria fed, alive, and healthy.
Does the lotion and body wash from Dove actually “nourish” a baby’s prebiotic skin? When we define the word ‘nourish’ we see that it means to “maintain, support and feed”. The old adage of “you are what you eat” can also be said of your skin. Nourishing or feeding your skin the right ingredients will determine the wellness of your skin. So let's look at the ingredients found in the lotion and body wash to see exactly what is feeding your skin in these products. A red flag for me right out the gate is that Dove states that the ingredients are “Made with 100% skin-natural nutrients* to help delicate baby skin retain its natural moisture.” The phrase “skin-natural nutrients” has an asterisk attached to it that reads *Our nutrients are identical to those naturally found in skin. So their ingredients are identical to those naturally found, but aren’t actually naturally found on the skin. This is a tricky way that companies can tout that their product is “natural” when in fact they are really artificial or synthetic.
I am not claiming to be an expert in chemistry, beauty products or anything like that, but I do think it is important to research the products you use and the ingredients that make them up, whether you clean with them, ingest them or place them on your skin. When looking at the ingredient list on the back of any product, the ingredients are listed in order of predominance. This means the ingredients used in the greatest amount are listed first with the following ingredients found in descending amounts. My plan is to just highlight the ingredients of each product that are questionable or have been deemed unsafe, harmful, or toxic.
The tip-to-toe body wash contains 21 ingredients. After the usual first ingredient of water, the words get more confusing and harder to read. The third ingredient in, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, raises my first objection. Cocamidopropyl Betaine is derived from coconuts. Isolated by itself though can cause irritation to the skin and eyes. It has also been associated with irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. So the third most predominant ingredient can actually irritate your skin. That seems counterintuitive to me.
The next harmful ingredient is Polyacrylate-33. Polyacrylate is an absorbent and emulsion stabilizer. This chemical is classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful” by the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List.
Next up is Phenoxyethanol. Phenoxyethanol is a germicidal, meaning it kills germs such as bacteria. And just like antibiotics, it does it in a very non-descript manner. It doesn’t have any real pre-determination as to what is labeled a “good” or “bad” bacteria. It just disrupts and kills all bacteria. This again is a counterintuitive processes at play. Nourish or nullify the skin?
Another very concerning ingredient is fragrance or parfum. The word "fragrance" or "parfum" on the product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals and ingredients used as fragrance dispersants such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress and potential effects on the reproductive system. It is also a known human immune system toxicant or allergen.
The last, but not least unsafe ingredient is Titanium Dioxide. Titanium dioxide is an inorganic compound used in a range of body care products such as sunscreens and makeup. It doesn’t penetrate through the skin easily but inhalation is a concern. It is a possible human carcinogen if inhaled.
Now onto the lotion. The lotion shares some of the same harmful chemicals found in the wash such as Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance and Titanium Dioxide. It also brings to the table its own array of toxic substances.
The third ingredient found in the lotion is Petrolatum. Petrolatum, commonly known by the name Petroleum Jelly, is a by-product of the oil refining process. Yes the same oil that goes into your car as gasoline. Petroleum was originally found coating the bottom of oil rigs in the mid-1800s. It is often used in lotions and moisturizers because it creates a waterproof barrier between the skin and the environment. Unintended obstacles arise due to the barrier. The barrier blocks pores, creates collagen breakdown and can lock in metabolic waste and unwanted bacteria. This in turn can overheat the skin, creating inflammation and increase the risk of rashes and eczema. When we think of a “breathable” organ, we usually just think about our lungs, but our skin breathes as well. The skin needs to breathe because it is our greatest transmitter of heat. Petroleum in a sense chokes the skin and prevents it from breathing. Petrolatum also contains hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are found in all petroleum and natural gas products and can not be metabolized by the body. Hydrocarbons contaminant the body and can create hormonal, allergic and autoimmune problems. This highlights another point of contention: Dove claims that “100% of the nutrients used in their products are identical to those found on the skin.” Hydrocarbons are not naturally found on the skin since they are something that is not metabolized or created as a by-product of metabolism. I guess they could be naturally found on the skin if you worked on an oil field. But I don’t know that many infants who consider themselves “rough-necks”.
Next up in the questionable ingredient department is Dimethicone. Dimethicone is a silicon-based polymer or oil and is synthetically made. It produces a waterproof barrier similar to petroleum jelly. Because of its similarity to petroleum jelly, dimethicone creates some of the same negative outcomes. It is also non-biodegradable, which means that living organisms such as bacteria can not “eat” it and break it down. So how does this ingredient “nourish a baby’s prebiotic” for the bacteria if the bacteria can’t eat it in the first place?
Rounding out the harmful chemicals list is Isopropyl Isostearate and Triethanolamine. Both are classified as known skin irritants if used in high doses or used on sensitive skin. Babies are known to have more sensitive skin compared to the general population. Because of this fact, any dosage of any product, especially one that is known to irritate the skin, should be questioned. Again and again, I see hypocritical underpinnings with the ingredients found in the body wash and lotion.
From Dove’s own website, they try and answer the question “How can a body wash help care for your skin microbiome?” And their answer: Two Words: Gentle Cleansing. Because being gentle to the microbiome starts with being gentle to the skin. That means using products that respect the skin’s pH and its microbiome while you wash. We’ve got you covered. All Dove Body washes are formulated with 100% gentle, sulfate free cleansers, and are as mild to skin pH as water. So you’ll get beautifully nourished, soft skin, while respecting your skin’s microbiome.
So does Dove deliver on its claims? In my opinion, it does not. I fail to see how either the wash or lotion can nourish the microbiome in any way, shape or form with all the illogical ingredients I presented. From my research, I didn’t find ingredients that “maintained, supported and fed” the skin, but rather ingredients that “irritated, inflamed and destroyed” the skin. Putting in flowery words and phrases such as “gentle” and “respecting your skin” doesn’t negate the fact that some of the ingredients in these products actually agitate and disrespect the skin.
I want to conclude by saying that it is not my goal to shame or bad mouth anyone if they are using these products or similar products on their children. My job is not to tell you what type of body wash or lotion you should be using as a parent on your child. How you maintain, support and feed your child’s skin, body, mind and soul is your business. My intention is to provide information on topics that can effect health outcomes in either a positive or negative way. Healthy choices are important, but only when we know exactly what we are choosing.