I’ve partnered with JohnsonsBaby for this post. Thanks, JohnsonsBaby!

Annabel loves to read, but it’s only been in the last couple of months that she’s realized reading is for more than just enjoying a good story — it can also unlock all the secrets of the world! For example, Mike and I used to communicate with each other in front of the kids via text. This worked until we realized Annie’s speedy eyes could see what we wrote.

Me, in a text: When the kids are asleep do you want to finish off that ice cream?
Annie, out loud: YOU CAN’T EAT OUR ICE CREAM!!!

In addition to our texts, Annie is also really into reading labels on things because, as she says, “They tell all of their secrets!” I must confess, this is partly because of me. Ever since I started doing my sporadic Whole 30 diets, I have been much better about reading the labels on the foods I buy (even though it means I sometimes spend WAY too long stressing over labels). And since Annie goes with me to the grocery store, she’s now reading them too.

looking at the packaging

reading labels

reading labels

Unsurprisingly, this leads to a lot of questions.

“Mom, what is pyridoxine?”
“What is silicon dioxide?”
“How about oxidane?”

The truth is that, for all of my label reading, I still find them pretty confusing. In the Whole30 world, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, that usually means you shouldn’t eat it. But what do you do when these things are in, say, your child’s shampoo or body lotion? It’s easy to look at a label and go, “Oh crap, what am I putting on my baaaaaaaybeeeeeee?”

The reality is that labels don’t have to be so confusing, and JOHNSON’s has been on a mission to empower parents to better understand how to read a label. I especially love their “Behind the Label” page on their website, which tells you what all of those crazy-sounding ingredients are, and why they’re included in a product. So when Annie says to me, “What’s tocopheryl acetate?” I can be like, “That’s Vitamin E! It’s used to moisturize skin and hair.” And I sound like a freaking genius. I love sounding like a genius!

What you may not realize (I didn’t until recently) is that a lot of scary-sounding ingredient names are for totally normal things. This is because most cosmetic companies use International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI), which is a fancy way of saying they use the scientific names for their ingredients to keep consistency throughout all the different products that are out there. In the United States, the FDA requires that all cosmetics include a listing of ingredients using the standardized INCI name for each ingredient. This means that, while your eyes may bug out upon seeing “pyridoxine,” it’s actually just the official chemical name of vitamin B6, an essential nutrient. And oxidane? It’s the official chemical name for water.

Another thing that’s easy to be confused about is natural vs. non-natural ingredients. People often see the word “organic” and assume it means the product is high-quality and safe. Conversely, they see non-natural ingredients on a label and worry about their safety. The reality, though, isn’t so simple. Non-natural ingredients can be safe, and are often necessary in baby products. Babies’ skin dries out more quickly — and is more easily damaged — than adult skin, so sometimes natural ingredients that work well for adults are simply too harsh for babies’ skin. What’s most important to JOHNSON’s is that the ingredients — natural or non-natural — are safe. Out of the thousands of cosmetic ingredients used globally, less than 2% meet JOHNSON’S standards for baby products. This is because JOHNSON’S holds both natural and non-natural ingredients to the same safety standards.

Labels may be stressful, but they don’t have to be totally inscrutable. Hopefully, by talking about labels and what they mean with Annie, she will grow up to be a well-informed consumer who won’t be phased by reading labels. And who knows? Maybe Annie will grow up to be a chemist!