Is it safe to use a zinc oxide cream with cloth diapers? There’s some anecdotal evidence which claims that zinc causes staining and build-up, but this is misleading. What matters most is how the cream is formulated and how the oils are emulsified.
Years ago, my internet friend Sarah made and sold a cloth-safe cream called Tiny Tuchus. It contained zinc oxide. I’m publishing a post below which Sarah wrote on her (now shuttered) website.
Honestly, you can use pretty much any cream you like when cloth diapering because simply adding a liner on top can take all the worry and guesswork away. And even in a worst case scenario, you could always hand rinse the diaper with a little bit of Dawn to remove unwanted buildup. Throwing a diaper away because you think it’s been “ruined” by this or that ointment is curing a headache with a hammer.
And now for Sarah’s article!
—-The article below originally appeared on January 12, 2013 at Sarah’s “Tiny Tuchus” website, which is no longer in existence so I cannot link to it.—-
As Mark Twain once said, “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” This is also true for hearsay, supposition, misunderstandings and urban myths. One of these misunderstandings that persist in the cloth diapering world is that all diaper creams containing zinc oxide must be avoided, due to varying reasons that depend on the page this is repeated on: because it stains, or it ruins cloth absorption, or because it builds up smell. None of these are actually true of zinc itself, but they are repeated on page after page of cloth diapering advice, so a quick Google search on the subject can leave one with the impression it’s a fact that zinc is bad for cloth diapers.
The truth is that what builds up on cloth diapers and prevents absorption is oil, plain and simple. This oil can be from creams and balms or simply the soap you wash the diapers in—-soap itself is just saponified oil, and the soap scum you see on your shower door is oil residue as well (mixed with minerals, etc). There are other ingredients in detergents that allegedly build up besides the oil, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
If you’ve ever used Desitin with cloth diapers, you’ve probably had a bad experience from the smell or buildup, but don’t blame the zinc—–blame the cod liver oil. Desitin is primarily oil, with water accounting for next to nothing. It needs very little emulsification to remain a cream, so the oil composes the majority of the product and this builds up on your diapers. Naturally, if the zinc is suspended in oil that can’t wash away, the zinc will remain behind as well. If this oil is never stripped, it will attract dirt, feces and other stain-building substances.
Many cloth diapering parents have used California Baby’s zinc diaper cream with much success, because of the high water content and emulsification of their oils. Tiny Tuchus diaper creams use a similar ratio of water to oil, and equal amounts of emulsifier and oil are used to ensure that not only does the cream stay creamy, but it also washes clean of diapers and inserts without needing to be “stripped.” All of the zinc that is suspended in the cream is washed away as well, leaving nothing but a sparkling diaper and a very happy bum…In fact, FuzziBunz actually recommends using zinc oxide powder and water as a safe diaper rash preparation for use with their diapers. Where evidence is mostly limited to personal experience and research, FuzziBunz’s endorsement of zinc oxide is pretty powerful.
Next time you see a diaper cream marked “cloth diaper safe”, you will have a wider understanding of what that means to you.
Note from Anne Marie: At the end of Sarah’s post, she included the ingredients in her cream and how each one works. I’m posting that here, too, because it’s so interesting.
Zinc Oxide: One of the most important ingredients in our diaper cream lines, zinc oxide has many benefits for treating diaper rashes including its ability to increase cell division and collagen turnover and promote healing. Our USP (United States Pharmacopeia) certified zinc oxide provides an incredible barrier for your baby’s skin and helps keep the “swampy” feeling out of their diapers.
Lavender: One of the most-used plants in holistic medicine, Lavender is used to treat many different issues, including inflammation, skin ailments and fungus. It is an antiseptic, analgesic, and bactericide, which in part allows us to avoid the use of chemical preservatives. Our products specifically use the essential oil of Lavender Barreme, a highly therapeutic-grade strain grown at high altitudes in France to produce the finest quality finished product.
Tea Tree: Prized by modern herbalists around the world, Tea Tree oil has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, and bactericidal properties, making it an essential part of our diaper creams. As with all of our ingredients, we use only the finest quality Tea Tree to ensure your baby’s bum stays happy.
Calendula: Calendula is used in many skin preparations because of its powerful healing abilities and soothing nature. It is extremely gentle and is often used in baby products to encourage rash healing and skin softening. Parents everywhere will attest to the healing properties of this amazing plant!
Rice bran oil: High in vitamin E and natural antioxidants, we chose Rice Bran Oil for our cream base because of its highly hypoallergenic properties. Rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, it is easily absorbed into the skin, leaving behind a naturally soft and smooth bum instead of a greasy, sticky one.
Vegetable glycerine: Vegetable glycerine is a wonderful humectant, holding both moisture and oxygen next to the skin, leaving a cooling and moisturizing effect on your baby’s bum. Our glycerine is derived from corn.
Lanolin: Lanolin is the greasy substance in wool that keeps the sheep dry from the rain. It is hypoallergenic and provides an amazing barrier between irritants and your baby’s skin. It also helps keep our creams on the skin instead of the diaper, so it can continue protecting your baby’s bum long after the diaper is closed.
Note from Anne Marie: There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that zinc oxide is 100% safe with cloth!