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Shampoos are relatively interchangeable in the grown-up world — when is the last time you looked at the ingredient list on the bottles in your shower?
But the rules are a little different when it comes to babies. Their skin is much more sensitive than ours, and their tiny bodies may be more susceptible to harm from chemicals. That’s why it’s important to know what products you’re using on your baby’s delicate skin.
On one hand, babies don’t stink like we do (who doesn’t love that new baby smell?!) so they don’t need to bathe as often. But diaper blowouts, spit-up, and baby food messes are all inevitable and can send you running to the bathtub with your little one.
During the early newborn weeks, plain warm water is enough to clean your baby. For the first week or so, until the umbilical cord stump falls off, stick to sponge baths (no submerging your baby in water).
Around 4 to 6 weeks old, you can start using a few drops of a gentle baby shampoo on their hair (if they have any) and body. You only need to use a tiny, pea-sized bit — you want to leave their skin’s protective oils intact as much as possible.
As your baby gets older and grows a full head of hair, you may begin to use a little more shampoo to get their hair clean. Baby skin is thinner and dries out much faster than adult skin, so choosing a gentle, baby-friendly shampoo can help keep their skin from getting dry and itchy.
Some babies have particularly sensitive skin that may be prone to eczema and rashes. To protect their delicate skin from irritation, here are some ingredients you’ll want to avoid when you look for a baby shampoo:
Parabensand phthalates are harsh and possibly dangerous chemicals often found in adult toiletry products and plastics.
- Formaldehyde— yep, the same stuff used in science labs (yuck).
- Fragrance can irritate skin and is sometimes used as a broad label that includes other potentially harmful ingredients.
- Dyes, which some babies are allergic to.
- Sulfates, which may irritate skin and eyes.
- Alcohol is often labeled ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, which dries out the skin.
It’s advisable to keep shampoo out of your baby’s eyes whenever possible, as the eyes are especially sensitive. Tear-free formulas will help with this, but still, bath time will be more pleasant if you tip your little one’s head back and rinse the shampoo away from their face.
Do your homework
A great resource for checking the safety of ingredients in your baby’s products (and yours, for that matter!) is the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). They’ve compiled research on many ingredients, rated them for safety, and then given individual products a rating based on the ingredients. You can search their database for any toiletry product you’re considering for your kiddo.
And of course, no matter what shampoo you use, you never ever want to leave your little one unattended in the bathtub. Try to place everything you’ll need (shampoo, washcloth, towel, toys, diaper, etc.) within reach ahead of time so that you can stay hands-on with your baby.
There are endless baby shampoos on the market, so narrowing down what to look for can help. In addition to avoiding the harsher (and possibly unsafe) ingredients listed above, some key features to look for include:
- tear-free, because they’re inevitably going to squirm and shampoo might get in their eyes
- plant-based or natural ingredients — such as fruit and seed oils
We tested a few products ourselves, polled real-life parents, conducted extensive online research related to ingredient safety, and read reviews to gather our top 10 baby shampoos. Read on to keep your baby safe and smelling sweet!
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$15
- $$$ = over $15
This baby shampoo and body wash, from well-known brand Cetaphil, claims to be tear-free and contains some nice skin-friendly ingredients such as calendula (a flower oil) and vitamins E and B5 (panthenol).
It gets great reviews overall from parents, who love the light scent and say this shampoo is gentle on baby’s skin and hair. However, it gets only a moderate score from the EWG, primarily because it contains fragrance.
This option’s also not sulfate-free, so it gives a good lather but may irritate your baby’s skin if they are extra sensitive. Several parents also reported that it did irritate their baby’s eyes, despite being labeled tear-free.
While a bit on the pricey side for the size, this baby shampoo and wash from Attitude is top of the list when it comes to ingredient safety and gentleness.
This shampoo contains colloidal oatmeal, which is soothing and moisturizing for dry, irritated skin, and it is verified by the EWG. Plus, it has the National Eczema Association seal of approval, so whether you have a baby with extra sensitive skin or just want to make sure you’re using natural ingredients, this is a fantastic choice.
While many baby shampoos do in fact double as a body wash, we love this particular shampoo/body wash combo from Pipette because it’s EWG verified, and covers all the bases when it comes to super gentle, clean ingredients.
This is also the most environmentally conscious option on our list. On the negative side, some parents said they actually wished it had more of a scent, and others felt it was a little pricey for the amount you get. Otherwise, it gets rave reviews (especially from parents of babies with skin concerns, such as eczema or atopic dermatitis).
This gentle baby shampoo from dermatologist-developed CeraVe gets a very good score from the EWG, and has the National Eczema Association’s seal of approval. It doesn’t have any of the yucky stuff (parabens, sulfates, and fragrances), and includes blend of vitamins and ceramides that help protect your baby’s skin instead of drying it out.
This shampoo gets great reviews from almost all parents, and especially those whose babies have extra dry scalps or skin. This is also a more budget-friendly option that still has clean ingredients.
Whether your little one is just starting to get wavy locks, or already has a full head of curls or coils, this tear-free shampoo from Cantu Care for Kids is a great option for natural or textured hair. Parents give it great reviews for enhanced curl definition and overall hair softness.
Infused with shea butter, honey, and coconut oil, it is highly moisturizing for thirsty hair. It’s also free of parabens, sulfates, and mineral oils, but it only gets a moderate rating from the EWG due to the presence of fragrance and an ingredient called methylisothiazolinone that may be more irritating to sensitive skin.
If you’ve been wondering what those nasty yellow scales on your precious babe’s head are, it could be cradle cap. This very common newborn skin complaint will not harm your baby, but it is unpleasant to look at and can be oily and itchy.
Using a cradle cap brush (buy one online), plus a medicated shampoo, can easily help restore your baby’s silky smooth scalp. This foaming shampoo from Mustela is formulated with mostly plant-based ingredients and gets great comments from parents.
It does have a tiny bit of salicylic acid in it (an exfoliant commonly found in adult acne treatment products), which helps clear off the scaly skin. However, some parents reported that this irritated their baby’s scalp, so do watch for redness or rashes.
This gentle, rich shampoo and body wash from Baby Dove is a favorite among parents. It is moisturizing, budget-friendly, and free of parabens and phthalates. This formula does have fragrance, but there is a fragrance-free version available as well.
According to reviews, a number of adults actually prefer to use baby shampoo for themselves as well, as it’s gentler on hair and free of many chemicals that are found in adult products. If you suffer from dry hair or a dry scalp, you may have good results using this moisturizing baby shampoo yourself.
Babo Botanicals is a company well known for their commitment to ingredient purity and safety. This sweet-smelling shampoo is highly rated by the EWG, and contains many skin-loving ingredients such as shea butter and coconut oil.
It also contains natural lavender flower oil, which has been shown to have some calming properties that may help babies sleep better (sign us up!). Parents rave about this shampoo for its versatility, gentleness on sensitive skin, and of course the pleasant smell. Plus, it also doubles as a bubble bath, which is sure to be a big hit with baby.
For those who travel frequently, or for cleaning up on-the-go (because of course the diaper blowout is going to happen when you’re at a restaurant with no bathtub in sight), there are “shampoos” available that can clean your baby without water.
This no-rinse micellar water cleanser from Mustela is a fan-favorite. The ingredients are everything you want (think: lots of plant-based goodness), and none of the stuff you don’t. It is highly rated by the EWG, and many parents actually use it as a skin treatment for baby acne.
Worth noting: A few parents reported rashes or worsening of baby acne, so you could try a spot test for a few days to see how your baby’s skin reacts.
Because many of the products on our list are highly rated for ingredient quality and safety, they can also be a bit pricey. If you are looking for a great, classic baby shampoo that does the job, smells great, and has generally safe ingredients, you can’t beat Johnson & Johnson’s updated tear-free baby shampoo.
While the company received a lot of public attention a few years ago for unsafe ingredients in their baby shampoo, they have since revamped their formula to get rid of all the parabens, phthalates, sulfates, and dyes.
The shampoo does still contain fragrance, and may not be the best choice if you have a baby with super sensitive skin. However, at around $6 for a big huge bottle, the price is impossible to beat.
Bath time can be a sweet bonding experience for you and your baby — watching them discover their toes and splash in the water is just plain fun.
While babies don’t need as many baths as adults, you can keep them clean and sweet smelling with a safe, gentle baby shampoo made just for them. And then you get to enjoy those baby-scented cuddles!