Forman Dermatology Talks With Reviews.com About Best Baby Shampoo 5/26/17
The Best Baby Shampoo
Formulas that won’t leave either of you in tears
The best baby shampoo should be as gentle as possible, leaving hair clean but avoiding ingredients that could dry or irritate delicate skin. After talking with dermatologists and chemists and testing 16 of the most promising brands on our own heads, we found our top picks: a range of products from national chains and up-and-coming companies that deliver on their promise of stress-free bath time.
A gentle formula from a tried-and-true name in baby care. This shampoo relies on plant-based surfactants to clean, rinses out easily, and leaves hair feeling soft.
The Best Baby Shampoos
Johnson’s Baby Naturals Shampoo
Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash
Runner-up for Best Overall
Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash
Runner-up for Best Overall
Mummy’s Miracle Moringa Baby Shampoo & Wash
Runner-up for Best Overall
CeraVe Baby Wash & Shampoo
Best for Sensitive Skin
SheaMoisture Fragrance-Free Baby Wash & Shampoo
Runner-up for Sensitive Skin
Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash
Infants and toddlers have skin that’s still developing, which means that it’s typically more sensitive than adult skin. So the best baby shampoo should avoid strong cleaning agents and preservatives — you want just enough cleansing power to remove gunk without causing dryness or irritation.
Most newborns don’t need shampooNewborns (babies under a month old) often don’t need soap or shampoo at all. There’s nothing wrong with using it, but unless your baby has a full head of hair that’s starting to look greasy, water should suffice.
Our pick for the top baby shampoo is Johnson’s Baby Naturals Shampoo. At about $8 for 10 ounces, it leaves hair feeling clean and soft without being too drying, and it rinses out easily. The Baby Naturals formula relies on gentle cleansing agents sourced from coconut oil and has a light, clean scent that isn’t overpowering. The Johnson & Johnson brand also came highly recommended by our experts.
If your child has sensitive skin (or if you just want an extra-gentle formula) give Cerave Baby Wash & Shampoo a shot. It’s free of fragrance, which can sometimes cause allergic reactions. It also has tons of moisturizers and left our hair so soft we were tempted to start using it regularly. An 8-ounce bottle is around $10.
“Organic” isn’t a term that’s tightly regulated when it comes to personal care products, but if you value organically sourced ingredients, we really liked Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash. It has a pleasant lavender scent and certified-organic ingredients like aloe vera, oat bran, and sunflower oil.
It’s up to you. There’s no clear cut-off point, and responses in parenting forums like BabyCenterand CafeMom suggest most parents use baby shampoo until their children are at least 2 or 3 — though some switch earlier and some use it until adolescence. We looked for products that would serve parents well during the 1- to 3-year range, but if you find a product you like, feel free to keep using it.
How We Found the Best Baby Shampoo
We started with a list of 87 products readily available online or at big retail stores like Target and Walmart. We targeted baby shampoos specifically — no bubble bath, kids’ or adult shampoo, bar soap, or conditioner (though we did look at a few two-in-one shampoo and body wash products).
We cut formulas with harsh surfactants.
Surfactants are the ingredients that cleanse your hair by stripping it of sebum — the oil secreted by your scalp. Shampoos need surfactants to do their job, but when we reviewed the best adult shampoos, we found 10 surfactants too strong even for adults. Ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate remove oil so thoroughly that they can lead to a dry, itchy scalp — not good for adults or babies.
To play it safe, we nixed the preservative phenoxyethanol.
Preservatives help prevent bacteria and fungi from building up inside a bottle of shampoo once it’s been opened — a good thing — but some types come with their own health concerns.
Take phenoxyethanol. While it’s generally considered safe, in 2008, the FDA issued a warning against a nipple cream for nursing mothers that contained phenoxyethanol, noting that the cream could depress the central nervous system of infants who ingested it, and cause vomiting and diarrhea. The risk of ingestion is admittedly lower in shampoo than in nipple cream, but since babies seem to get just about everything in their mouths at some point, we wanted to be cautious.
We got rid of benzyl alcohol, found in some “tear-free” formulas.
All of our experts were unanimous on this: You don’t want to see benzyl alcohol on the ingredient list of your baby shampoo. Chemist Perry Romanowski, who operates the website chemistscorner.com, explained that benzyl alcohol acts as a numbing agent — basically a mild anesthetic. While Romanowski doesn’t think benzyl alcohol will cause outright harm, he told us that it doesn’t speak well of the rest of the ingredient list. You’re better off with a shampoo that’s gentle enough that it doesn’t need a masking anesthetic. There’s also no other reason to include benzyl alcohol, given that it dries out your skin and can cause contact allergies.
Then we divided our contenders into categories for normal and sensitive skin.
If, above all else, you want a product that’s as gentle as can be, you should choose an unscented formula. Dr. Bobby Buka, a leading dermatologist in New York City, was especially wary of synthetic fragrance, while Romanowski and dermatologist Dr. Jody Levine were more worried about essential oils. But either category has the potential to cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. So for our sensitive-skin contenders, we skipped both, nixing products that included fragrance, parfum, or essential oil. To be safe, we also skipped products with limonene and linalool, fragrance components that can cause similar allergic reactions.
That said, we love a lightly scented shampoo as much as anyone, and plenty of well-known brands, from Johnson & Johnson to Mustela, use scent in their products. As Romanowski points out, these companies have spent a lot of time and money developing formulas that will work for most babies. If you like scent but want to be cautious, you can always spot-check new products on a small patch of your baby’s skin before using them.
But we still had a lot of options.
Fifty-five of them, to be exact. And the harder we tried to pin down specific ingredients that should be included or excluded, the more confusing the situation became. Even our experts disagreed. “I encourage patients to find a local farmer’s market and buy shampoo there,” Dr. Buka told us. But, “I would be wary of brands by small companies because of a (possible) lack of safety testing,” Romanowski reported.
So for our hands-on testing, we blazed our own trail, focusing on the 16 products that seemed most popular among new parents — shampoos that were either frequently mentioned on parenting forums like WhatToExpect and MomJunction or that had a strong social media presence (like Tubby Todd, which has its own Instagram page). We wanted to find out which of these popular picks were most worth recommending.
Then we tried out our finalists for ourselves.
We didn’t have any babies on our editorial team, so we had to use adults. We tried each product on our own hair, noting what it smelled like, how well it lathered, how easy it was to dispense, and how our hair felt afterward. Because we were testing a lot of shampoos in quick succession, we rubbed a little peanut butter into our hair between washings to add oil back in and to ensure each shampoo actually had something to clean.
Most of our contenders did a decent job during hand-on testing: If you purchased any of them, the odds are good that you’d be happy with them. But a couple weren’t so lucky. After testing, we cut Alaffia Beautiful Curls for its overwhelmingly bad scent. What smelled faintly like sidewalk chalk in the bottle transformed into an overpowering stench when lathered on in the shower. We couldn’t wash it out fast enough. On top of that, it was so thick that it tended to jump back into the bottle when we tried to squeeze it out.
We also cut Earth Mama Angel Baby shampoo, a very popular online option, at this step. It has a pleasant, clean scent, and was dispensed in the form of a mousse, which made it easy to lather. But when it was time to rinse, it left our hair feeling more tangly than before. If there’s any tried-and-true formula for bath-time tears, it’s hacking through knots with a comb.
Our Picks for the Best Baby Shampoo
Romanowski, Dr. Levine, and Dr. Seth Forman, of Tampa-based Forman Dermatology & Skin Cancer Institute, all preferred baby shampoos from major brands: If a shampoo has been around for years and hasn’t picked up a reputation for causing contact allergies, it’s likely to be safe for your child. And in terms of sheer name recognition, it’s hard to beat Johnson & Johnson.
We were a little skeptical before we applied it. The shampoo feels very watery, and we assumed we’d need a lot to work up a noticeable lather. But it foamed quickly in our hair, and we only needed one rinse to wash out both the shampoo and all traces of peanut butter. Cleaning power is where Johnson’s stands out: Hours after testing, our hair still felt light and silky, without any scalp irritation or itchiness. This gave it an edge over contenders like Mustela, which cleaned just fine, but left our hair feeling dry, and California Baby, which produced a lackluster lather and required two passes before our scalps felt clean.
Johnson’s Baby Naturals claims to be “98 percent naturally derived” and gets its cleaning power from decyl glucoside, a very gentle surfactant that comes from “coconut, palm kernel, and corn,” according to the helpful ingredient guide on the back of the bottle. As a conditioner, Johnson’s Baby Naturals relies on cocoglycerides, an ingredient derived from coconut oil. And rather than parabens or phenoxyethanol, it uses sodium benzoate as a preservative. Sodium benzoate is so benign that it’s commonly used as a preservative in foods. In other words, nothing on the ingredient list should scare you. The formula has a light, pleasant scent that’s nearly identical to J&J’s classic “No More Tears” formula — just a little sweeter. A 10-ounce bottle retails for around $8.
Our one quibble was the cap. We tested all of our lids one-handed, with the assumption that parents won’t always have two hands free when bathing their kids, and we loved the pump tops used by finalists like Burt’s Bees Baby. But Johnson’s Baby Naturals uses a flip-top that requires too much force to open easily with one hand.
Others to Consider
Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash was another favorite during testing. It’s a little thicker than Johnson & Johnson, with a much stronger scent — as soon as we opened the bottle, we were met with a honey-infused aroma that one tester said reminded her of candy. Burt’s Bees isn’t quite as transparent as Johnson & Johnson about the source of its ingredients — you’ll have to translate the ingredient list for yourself — but a little digging reveals that it relies on sugar-based surfactants like decyl glucoside and lauryl glucoside to remove oil from hair, with glycerin and coconut-based conditioners to soften. It left our hair feeling very clean, but we did have to rinse a few seconds longer than Johnson & Johnson to get all of the product out. A 21-ounce bottle runs about $14.
We also really liked Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash. Like Johnson & Johnson, it relies on coconut-based surfactants that cleaned quickly and rinsed out easily. Puracy is closer to a gel than a liquid, so if you don’t like runny shampoos, you might prefer it over J&J. It has a pleasant citrus aroma that comes from pink grapefruit essential oil. A 16-ounce bottle will run you about $13. If you order online, just be aware that Puracy comes with a pump top that you’ll have to screw in yourself. When we assembled ours, the bottle was so full that we slopped a lot of shampoo onto the counter — you might want to complete this process over the bathtub.
If you prefer to seek out smaller brands, we’d also suggest Mummy’s Miracle Baby Shampoo. Like Puracy and Burt’s Bees, it comes with a pump top; the shampoo itself is a bit runny but left our hair clean, with no residue or itchiness. The main selling point of Mummy’s Miracle was all of the extras on its ingredient list: It includes aloe and chamomile extracts to soothe your baby’s skin, plus Moringa seed extract — produced from the seed pods of the Moringa tree and thought to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. The scent reminded us of Play-Doh, but your toddler might appreciate that. You can find an 8-ounce bottle for about $12.
Best for Babies with Sensitive Skin
If you’re concerned about fragrances, we’d suggest CeraVe Baby Wash and Shampoo, which is free of both synthetic scent and essential oils. This shampoo does still have a light aroma — testers reported that it smelled faintly flowery — but after scouring the ingredient list, we’re guessing the scent comes from the coconut: Like Johnson’s, CeraVe gets its cleansing power from coconut-oil based surfactants.
CeraVe performed well during testing, leaving our hair feeling completely clean after just one rinse. But all of our top picks clean well — CeraVe really stood out because of its conditioning and moisturizing properties. The formula contains niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that’s great for your skin, plus a variety of ceramides, which act as conditioners to keep hair soft. At about $10 for 8 ounces, it’s not our cheapest option. But it was also the only finalist to receive a perfect score in testing, and it was obvious those conditioning agents actually worked: Our hair was “I might use baby shampoo from now on” levels of soft.
Another contender in the sensitive skin space was Aveeno Baby Wash and Shampoo, a brand our experts often touted as a great choice for babies with sensitive skin. But in testing, we found CeraVe easier to lather and slightly better at cleaning. Unlike Aveeno’s flip cap, CeraVe also dispenses through a pump, which makes it easy to dispense with one hand while you’re wrangling a baby with the other.
Sensitive Skin Runner-Up
When we first dispensed SheaMoisture Fragrance-Free, we were skeptical: It felt oily, which seemed to defeat the purpose of a shampoo. But our worries were unfounded. SheaMoisture left our scalp feeling squeaky clean, performing just as well as CeraVe and edging out Aveeno.
The bottle comes with a pop-cap, a design our testers generally weren’t wild about. And if you’re looking for tons of suds, you’re probably better off with CeraVe. But if you want something that’s as close to unscented as possible, SheaMoisture Fragrance-Free is your best bet. It smells faintly like soap, but has no other odor. Our hair didn’t achieve quite the level of silkiness that CeraVe offered, but SheaMoisture does still have some great moisturizers: The very first ingredient on its ingredient list is aloe vera, and it also includes organic shea butter and oat extract. You get 13 ounces for $10.
Best for Parents Who Want to Go (Mostly) Organic
The gold seal of organic certification comes from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). But we learned from Romanowski that only products that don’t have water as an ingredient can qualify for the USDA’s certification — which essentially nixes all baby shampoos. That means it’s not always clear what you’re paying for if you opt for organic. “I think it’s literally impossible for a consumer to turn over a bottle and know what organic means from one bottle to the next bottle,” Dr. Buka told us. “It’s become such a bastardized term.”
In this space, the best option we found is Earth’s Best Organic Soothing Shampoo and Body Wash. Earth’s Best claims that it is 70 percent organic overall, and its ingredient list specifically indicates which ingredients are organically grown. The list includes organic aloe vera as a conditioner, plus organic oat bran, which has a calming, anti-inflammatory effect on skin. (Those oatmeal baths you took when you had the chicken pox weren’t for nothing.)
Oddly, while Earth’s Best cleaned our hair well, the shampoo itself was a little difficult to wash out. Like Burt’s Bees, it took a few extra seconds of rinsing. Earth’s Best is also dispensed via pop cap rather than a pump — slightly more difficult to operate when you have a baby in one hand. But we enjoyed the soothing lavender scent and the silky texture of the shampoo itself. A 16-ounce bottle retails for about $12.
We also tested Nature’s Baby Organics, but it required more scrubbing before our heads felt clean, didn’t lather as easily, and had fewer certified-organic ingredients on its list, so we ultimately chose not to recommend a runner-up for this category.
Did You Know?
None of our experts were concerned about formaldehyde
Johnson & Johnson received a slew of bad press a few years back after the discovery that its classic formula included auaternium-15, a preservative that released formaldehyde as it broke down. J&J reformulated its products in 2013 to remove the formaldehyde.
Was all the concern warranted? It depends on who you ask. Dr. Levine told us, “There was less formaldehyde in those products than there is in an apple. It’s not feasible that it would cause any harm.” Regardless, the worry seems to be a thing of the past: Of the 88 products we initially considered, formaldehyde-releasing ingredients showed up in just one ingredient list, Ricitos de Oro Baby Shampoo Chamomile (which we’d already cut due to harsh surfactants).
Be wary of formulas that claim to be “preservative-free”
As consumers become increasingly wary about synthetic ingredients, “preservative” starts to sound like a four-letter word. But according to Dr. Levine, you should be more scared of products without preservatives. Preservative-free formulas can encourage bacterial growth, leading to health hazards for your baby.
Visit certain corners of the internet and you’ll find ongoing debate over just about every preservative in existence. Here’s what we can tell you: While even our experts had differing opinions on parabens and phenoxyethanol, none of them voiced concerns about sodium benzoate — the preservative used in all three of our top picks.
You’ll know quickly if you chose the wrong shampoo
Choosing a baby shampoo can feel complicated, but the good news is that if you choose the wrong one, you’ll know quickly — and it’s not the end of the world. Dr. Forman laughed as he remembered what happened when he tried to use an anti-dandruff shampoo on his young daughter: “She had a rash all over, and this was when I was in training to be a dermatologist,” he said. “You can imagine how my wife felt. And, yes we were still happily married seventeen years later.”
If you’re unsure about a new product, you can always spot-test it by using it on a small section of your baby’s skin and waiting a day or two to be certain there’s no allergic reaction.