The best baby shampoo should be gentle, leaving hair clean but avoiding ingredients that dry or irritate delicate skin or cause bathtime tears. After talking with dermatologists and chemists, digging into the ingredients labels of 87 options, and testing 16 of the most promising brands on our own heads, we found our two top picks: products that deliver a gentle, soothing clean.
How We Chose the Best Baby Shampoos
Gentle cleansers only
Since babies’ skin is more absorbent than adult skin, it’s important to limit their exposure to strong chemicals, especially in the first few months. Shampoos contain surfactants that cleanse your hair by stripping it of sebum — the oil secreted by your scalp. When we reviewed the best adult shampoos, we found ten 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, even in adults — certainly much too harsh for babies.
Instead, we looked for products that relied on surfactants like decyl glucoside and coco-glucoside, extremely gentle cleansers derived from coconut. These ingredients occasionally show up in adult shampoos, too, but you’ll usually see them paired with other, stronger cleansers — hair gets a lot greasier as we age.
No potentially harmful preservatives
Preservatives help prevent bacteria and fungi from building up inside a bottle of shampoo once it’s been opened, but some types come with their own health concerns. One in particular, phenoxyethanol, we decided to rule out from our testing batch. 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.
Popularity with new parents
As we delved further into our ingredient lists, our experts weren’t always in agreement. Dr. Bobby Buka, a leading dermatologist in New York City, told us, “I encourage patients to find a local farmer’s market and buy shampoo there,” while chemist Perry Romanowski, who operates the website chemistscorner.com, said “I would be wary of brands by small companies because of a [possible] lack of safety testing.” In other words, even among experts, there isn’t always a clear-cut “best” option.
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).
What we tested?
- Alaffia Beautiful Curls Babies & Sensitive Curls Nurturing Shampoo
- Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo
- Babo Botanicals Moisturizing Baby Shampoo
- Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash
- California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo and Body Wash
- CeraVe Baby Wash & Shampoo
- Earth Mama Angel Baby Body Wash & Shampoo
- Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash
- Johnson’s Baby Naturals Shampoo
- Mummy’s Miracle Moringa Baby Shampoo & Wash
- Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns
- Nature’s Baby Organics Shampoo & Body Wash
- Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash
- SheaMoisture Fragrance-Free Baby Wash & Shampoo
- Tubby Todd Hair & Body Wash
- Weleda Baby Shampoo and Body Wash
The 2 Best Baby Shampoos
- Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash – Best Organic Baby Shampoo
- CeraVe Baby Wash & Shampoo – Best Fragrance-Free Baby Shampoo
Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash – Best Organic Baby Shampoo
Why we chose it
“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. The formula is 70% organic and includes a slew of certified-organic ingredients like aloe vera, oat bran, and calendula. 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.
Soothing lavender scent
We loved the clean lavender fragrance of Earth’s Best, something we also saw cited in many of its user reviews online. While not everyone will opt for a scented shampoo, especially for their baby, we thought the natural herbal aroma added a fresh element to bathtime.
Points to consider
Takes longer to rinse out
While Earth’s Best cleaned our hair well, and we enjoyed the silky texture of the shampoo itself, it’s worth noting that it took a little longer to wash out. We had to rinse for a few extra seconds to remove all residue, which for us wasn’t a deal breaker but might be a bother when trying to manage everything else at bathtime.
Another 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 Puracy. But Earth’s Best uses a flip-top that requires too much force to open easily with one hand.
CeraVe Baby Wash & Shampoo – Best Fragrance-Free Baby Shampoo
Why we chose it
Less chance of allergic reaction
If your child has had allergic reactions to other personal care products (whether diaper rash cream or just another brand of shampoo), our experts recommended choosing an unscented formula. CereVe Baby Wash & Shampoo was our top pick in this category. Not only does it skip both synthetic scent and essential oils, it’s also free of limonene and linalool, fragrance components that can cause similar allergic reactions.
Conditions as well as cleans
CeraVe stood out because of its heavy-duty moisturizers: It left our hair “I might use baby shampoo from now on” kind of soft. The formula contains niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 that’s great for your skin, plus a variety of ceramides, which act as conditioners. 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 better at cleaning.
Easy-to-use pump dispenser
CeraVe is the only one of our top picks that dispenses with a pump, which seems especially convenient if you’re trying to keep hold of your baby in a slick, sudsy tub or sink. One hand is all you need to increase your lather.
Points to consider
Not entirely unscented
While it’s marketed as “fragrance free”, Cerave Baby Wash & Shampoo does actually have a faintly sweet aroma that comes from its coconut-oil based surfactants (rather than perfume). In online reviews, not everyone liked it, but that’s about the only downside we can find for an otherwise-great product.
Guide to Baby Shampoo
How to find the right baby shampoo for your family
Check the ingredient list
Infants are delicate beings, so a very gentle wash is essential. Ingredient lists can be hard to decipher, but there are a few ingredients to watch out for. While the preservative phenoxyethanol is generally considered safe, our experts recommend avoiding it altogether as it can cause problems if ingested. You should also avoid benzyl alcohol. It’s used in some formulas as a numbing agent to mask eye irritation, but it dries out skin and can cause contact allergies. But don’t worry if you see sodium benzoate, the preservative used in both of our top picks. It’s so benign that it’s commonly used as a preservative in foods.
Consider your baby’s skin sensitivity
If your baby seems prone to rashes and eczema, it’s probably best to go with an unscented formula. Fragrances (particularly synthetic ones, but also natural ones, like essential oils) increase the potential for skin irritation. When it comes to cleansers, plant-based soaps like decyl glucoside and coco-glucoside are generally safer than sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium lauryl sulfate — which remove oil so thoroughly that they can lead to a dry, itchy scalp.
Baby Shampoos FAQ
Is fragrance-free shampoo always safer for a baby?
Even though we recommend avoiding fragrance if your baby’s skin is particularly delicate, there’s nothing inherently bad about scented baby shampoo. Most well-known brands, from Johnson & Johnson to Mustela, use scent in their products. And a lot of organic baby shampoos also fall into the “scented” category, thanks to their use of essential oils. If you have no reason to suspect your baby has skin allergies, there’s no real need to steer clear of this ingredient.
What does tear-free actually mean?
Turns out, “tear-free” is largely a marketing gimmick. The FDA doesn’t regulate the term, which means that manufacturers don’t have to prove their formulas are tear-free. The label could be applied to anything. But more worryingly, some shampoos rely on less-than-stellar ingredients to try to achieve a tear-free effect. Benzyl alcohol was of particular concern to our experts, who were unanimous: You don’t want to see this ingredient in your baby shampoo. That’s because it acts as a numbing agent — basically a mild anesthetic. While it doesn’t cause outright harm, you’re better off with a shampoo that’s gentle enough that it doesn’t need a masking anesthetic.
Should you avoid preservatives in shampoo?
Consumers are become increasingly wary about synthetic preservatives, but according to our experts, you should be more scared of products without preservatives, because they can be susceptible to bacterial growth, leading to health hazards for your baby. 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 both of our top picks.
Should you be concerned with formaldehyde in shampoo?
The short answer is no. Johnson & Johnson received a slew of bad press a few years back after the discovery that its classic formula included quaternium-15, a preservative that released formaldehyde as it broke down. J&J reformulated its products in 2013 to remove the formaldehyde. But dermatologist Dr. Jody 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, formaldehyde in baby shampoo now seems to be a thing of the past.