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As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. That includes giving them the best skin care routine to keep their skin soft and healthy.

Understanding which baby skin care products to buy can be confusing. Some ingredients can cause sensitive skin to become irritated, and certain others can even be absorbed into your little one’s body.

For this reason, it’s important to know what ingredients are in the products you use on your baby’s skin.

Read on for information about baby skin care products and tips on how to read product labels.

There are lots of safe products you can use on your little one’s skin. Still, you should talk with your baby’s pediatrician about a skin care routine at their first checkups and before introducing a new skin care product.


Not all babies need moisturizer applied. Patches of dry skin will often go away on their own.

If you want to use a moisturizer, though, ointments such as petroleum jelly are the most moisturizing and often the most cost effective.

However, some parents and babies may not like the greasy feel of ointments. If that’s the case, choose a moisturizing cream over lotions, which require more frequent applications for similar moisturizing effects.


Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under 6 months old. For babies older than 6 months, sunscreen should be applied to areas of uncovered skin when they’re exposed to both direct and indirect sunlight.

Opt for mineral-based sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, that block harmful UV rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for children to lessen the chance of skin irritation.

Bath products

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a small amount of mild cleanser with a neutral pH for bath time. Check the ingredients list for harsh additives, such as alcohols and fragrances, that may dry out baby’s skin or cause irritation.

Many baby skin care products contain claims to help them appear safer. For example, their labels might say:

  • hypoallergenic
  • natural
  • gentle
  • organic

But what do these terms really mean?

Unfortunately, not much. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating skin care products, but it doesn’t have the power to approve products before they make it onto shelves.

The FDA can take action when there’s a lot of evidence that a brand is making misleading claims about a product, but 2018 research suggests that adverse reactions to baby cosmetics are underreported. As a result, regulation of baby skin care product claims and labels can be challenging.

In fact, a 2018 study of 438 baby cosmetic products in the United Kingdom found that those marketed as “sensitive,” “gentle,” “organic,” or “fragrance-free” were more likely to contain skin irritants than those without such labels.

While each baby is unique, some ingredients are especially important to avoid in products for your little one. These include ingredients that are likely to cause irritation and allergies, as well as those that may be absorbed through the skin.


Everyone loves a good-smelling baby. As a result, fragrances are common in baby skin care products. Another 2018 study of 533 baby products found that almost half contain fragrances or perfumes.

Fragrances can cause allergic reactions, including rashes and breathing problems. If your baby seems sensitive to products with fragrances, be sure to choose soaps and moisturizers with labels that don’t have these words:

  • “fragrance”
  • “perfume”
  • “parfum”
  • “essential oil blend”
  • “aroma”

Fragrances may be listed generically without using specific ingredient names, or they may be identified by a less obvious name, such as “amyl cinnamal.”

The FDA provides a full list of common allergens in cosmetic products, including fragrances, plus how to identify them in ingredients lists.

Synthetic dyes

The good news is that most color additives and synthetic dyes are tightly regulated by the FDA and must get approval before they’re included in cosmetic products. However, this certification doesn’t apply to all dyes.

Dyes that don’t need to be certified include those from:

  • minerals
  • plants
  • animal sources


Parabens are used in a variety of cosmetic and food products as a preservative. They’re particularly common in “wash off” products such as soaps and shampoos.

Parabens are a common source of irritation from skin care products, so they should be avoided for babies and young children who are sensitive to them. Parabens are also easily absorbed by the skin.

Research from 2018 suggests that the long-term exposure to parabens throughout a person’s life may affect their metabolism and hormone regulation, so you may want to reduce your child’s exposure early in childhood.


Phthalates are chemicals used in some cosmetic products. While it’s not clear exactly how they affect health, some 2010 research suggests that exposure to phthalates at different times in life has effects on human development, allergies, and reproductive health.

The FDA has concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to regulate phthalates in cosmetics. According to its website, diethylphthalate (DEP) is the only phthalate still commonly used in cosmetic products.


Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are used in a variety of cosmetic products, including liquid baby soaps and baby wipes. These compounds are used to prevent bacterial growth but also may cause skin irritation and allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to them.

Although the doses observed in skin care products are generally considered safe, repeated and long-term exposure may increase the risk of other health concerns, including asthma and some cancers.

Most cosmetic companies have voluntarily removed formaldehyde from their products, but it’s still used in some products for babies and children, so be sure to check the ingredients list.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is a type of alcohol commonly used in moisturizers and sunscreens. It has become increasingly popular in cosmetic products due to its skin-softening properties, but it’s also a common cause of irritation and allergic reactions.

Talk with your child’s pediatrician or dermatologist if you suspect your little one is having a reaction to it.


Sulfates are a hard ingredient to avoid. They’re used in a lot of different skin care products, such as shampoos and body washes.

The most commonly used sulfates are:

  • sodium lauryl sulfate
  • sodium laureth sulfate

Sulfates aren’t necessarily unsafe, but they can cause temporary irritation. If you notice any redness, dryness, or itching after bath time, check your baby’s products for sulfates and consider switching to a sulfate-free wash.

Chemical sunscreens

Not all sunscreens are created equal. Chemical sunscreens protect skin by absorbing UV rays, whereas mineral sunscreens block UV light, deflecting it away from the skin.

Both protect against the sun’s harmful rays, and chemical sunscreens are often more appealing to parents because they’re easier to apply.

However, research published in 2020 suggests that some of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens can be absorbed through the skin into the body. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unsafe, parents should be aware of the potential risks until more research is done, since some of these compounds may affect the activity of hormones in the body.

Common ingredients in chemical sunscreens to avoid include:

  • avobenzone
  • benzophenone
  • homosalate
  • methoxycinnamate
  • octinoxate
  • octisalate
  • oxybenzone
  • PABA

Choosing safe and effective skin care products for your baby can be overwhelming, but it’s not impossible.

Instead of picking up labels with trendy claims, such as “hypoallergenic,” “gentle,” or “organic,” try learning about ingredients that can cause skin irritation if your baby shows signs of a rash or reaction.

This can help you feel empowered to navigate the many options available to you.

And don’t forget, your child’s pediatrician or dermatologist is there to provide guidance on the best way to care for your baby’s skin.