Starting Early, and Young

Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times

Dr. Ami Shah Nagarajan estimates that she spends $150 a month on products with minimal chemicals for Prem, 3, top, and his twin sister.

By SHIVANI VORA
DR. AMI SHAH NAGARAJAN, 38, a specialist in integrative medicine who lives in Manhattan, estimates that she spends $150 a month on Mustela and California Baby products for her 3-year-oldtwins. “I spend more on my kids than I do for myself,” she said. “It’s worth it to me to get something pure for them.”

The Honest Company, Aveeno, Johnson & Johnson and Lavanila are among the companies that have skin care and beauty products geared toward babies.

Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

Zoe Schaeffer with her daughters, from left, Gemma, Cleo and Rafi.

While Dr. Nagarajan said she was mindful of using beauty products with minimal chemicals even before she had children, other mothers have become more conscientious after giving birth. Zoe Schaeffer, 35, who lives in Los Angeles and has a mothering blog, Macaroon Original, said she spends $150 to $200 a month on a variety of natural lines for her three children, 3 months to 4 years old.

Ms. Schaeffer, who describes herself as a “product junkie,” said that her curiosity to try new beauty lines extended to her children when she became a mother. “I am not necessarily into natural lines myself,” she said. “But it was important for me to find pure and nontoxic products for my kids because I feel like their skin is so new.”

In the last five years, the premium baby skin care category, which is comprised mostly of natural and organic brands, has grown significantly. According to Euromonitor International, a London-based market research company, sales of premium baby care in the United States increased 68 percent from 2005 to 2010. In contrast, sales of total baby care rose just 16 percent during the same period.

And at Diapers.com, one of the largest online baby stores in the country, the baby skin care category has grown more than 180 percent in the last three years, with most of the sales coming from the increasing number of high-end natural brands, according to Kwany Lui, a company spokeswoman. The site’s top seller is a four-ounce jar of calendula cream from the Los Angeles-based California Baby that costs $21. Even the cosmetics giant Sephora ventured into baby care when it started selling Lavanila, a line of high-end natural products, in May 2010 in 150 of its stores. (The company also sells a popular French brand, Mustela, through its Web site.)

Other high-end brands include Love Me Baby Me, MD Moms, Dr. Robin, Lalabee Bathworks, Episencial and the Honest Company, which the actress Jessica Alba, a mother of two, helped found.

According to Euromonitor, the most popular skin care brand for babies in the country is still Johnson & Johnson, which itself introduced an inexpensive five-product natural line in 2010. But the choices in natural and low-chemical skin care on the market for young children today are head-spinning, and in many cases, the prices even more so.

These lines tend to use ingredients — sometimes organic — like almond and safflower oil, flower extracts and aloe, and are free from chemicals like parabens, sulfates and phthalates, which some studies have linked to a spectrum of ailments, like simple skin irritation.

In the world of baby body care, health has become synonymous with luxury. These soaps, lotions and diaper creams are usually attractively packaged and cost mostly in the double digits. The average price of an item from Mustela, the more-than-60-year-old Paris-based skin care line that reformulated its products in 2010 to eliminate chemicals that have raised concern among parents, like parabens, is $12. (The company has a Musti eau de soin, a perfume for babies, that costs $29 a bottle.) Love Me Baby Me, a Los Angeles-based line that uses ingredients like organic aloe and chamomile in its five products, has a lotion for $25.95, and MD Moms, also based in Los Angeles, offers a $12 72-pack of baby wipes with ginger root extract. Noni juice is the key ingredient in Lavanila products, which start at $15; and in the Noodle and Boo line based in Campbell, Calif., two bars of French-milled baby soap made with oatmeal and almond oil sell for $12. (Honest, a monthly subscription service, is more affordable. Customers can select 5 out of 14 products, which include detergent and hand soap, for $35.95.) Meanwhile, Aveeno, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson, has a new Organic Harvest line whose three products are made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and cost $12 each.

California Baby was a leader in the trend in premium baby skin care. Jessica Iclisoy started the line nearly two decades ago, when she was pregnant with her first son and couldn’t find any soap or shampoo for him that didn’t have strong chemicals. She started off selling her products to small health food stores, and today, the line can be found at more than 10,000 locations, including Babies “R” Us and Target. According to Ms. Iclisoy, the company continues to grow 40 percent a year, despite prices starting at around $20 for a bottle of shampoo.

Ms. Iclisoy says the cost is justified. “Using natural ingredients such as calendula are much more expensive than harsh chemicals like sulfates and sulfites,” she said.

Still, babies tend to work their way through certain products like wipes and lotion at a rapid pace. And what parent hasn’t cringed when their child delights upon dumping half a bottle of premium bubble bath down the drain?

Some parents, though, say these products are not an indulgence, but a necessity.

Amy Shea, 33, who works in medical sales and lives in Boston, says that the scalp rub from MD Moms, which runs $22 a tube, cleared up her daughter’s cradle cap. “The product was life-changing,” she said. “The products aren’t a splurge. They’re something practical I have to use on my kids.”

But not all dermatologists are convinced. Dr. Sheryl D. Clark, an assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, says that skin care products, natural or not, can be harmful on babies younger than 6 months old. If a baby displays allergy symptoms, she said, the parent should see a doctor to pinpoint the issue before experimenting with a potpourri of expensive products.

“You think that you are spending more money so it must be a good thing,” she said, “but that’s not necessarily true.”

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