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What to Avoid in Baby Shampoos and Body Washes

It's probably not a shock to most parents that skin damage or irritation is more common in babies than in adults. This is a primary reason why you need to be very careful about what you apply to a baby's skin. If shampoo or body wash is applied directly to the skin, the chemicals in these products can all too easily cause damage and irritation. Even after bathing and a good rinse, chemical residues may remain on a baby's skin. This can lead to even worse irritation and can have painful and irritating side effects for a baby's sensitive skin. 

In many cases, you may think it's best to look for products that are labeled as tear-free. However, these soap-free shampoos and body wash often contain ingredients that can release formaldehyde. While some ingredients might cause eyes to water, they aren't always necessarily a worse choice than the damaging ingredients found in many tear-free products.

Why do baby shampoos and body washes contain toxic ingredients in the first place? The most common components of baby shampoo and body wash are sulfates and preservatives, as well as scents to provide a pleasant smell. Toxic chemicals are often present in surfactants, preservatives, and some fragrances. Here, we will go over in detail what ingredients to avoid in your baby's shampoo and body wash.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This ingredient is often found in body washes, shampoos, and even toothpaste, as it is what creates a foaming action. Despite the fact that this chemical is initially derived from coconuts, it is far from natural. When sodium lauryl sulfate is manufactured, ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are introduced into the process. Several compounds in 1,4 dioxane have actually been found to cause cancer in humans, including ethylene oxide, which is a known carcinogen. 

Numerous different studies have found this ingredient to be toxic and potentially harmful, so it should be avoided. There is a possibility of salt lauryl sulfate causing diseases such as cancer and epilepsy, as well as organ toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and skin and eye irritation. 


Parabens are a common ingredient to see, so many people are used to them and don't think twice when they spot them on the back of a bottle of shampoo or body wash. However, even though several cosmetic products contain parabens as preservatives to prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria, they can be absorbed through the skin and potentially have harmful effects. Detections of paraben molecules in breast cancer tissues have raised concerns that their presence is related to the disease. There are five primary types of parabens to avoid: ethylparaben, methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, and isobutylparaben.  

Formaldehyde Releasing Chemicals

The word formaldehyde is scary, and most people wouldn't purchase any product that had this dangerous chemical listed on the ingredients. But did you know there are actually chemicals that release formaldehyde? So even if it isn't a listed ingredient, it could be present. 

In addition to causing cancer, formaldehyde has been linked to serious fertility issues. Inhalation or ingestion can lead to this dangerous chemical being easily absorbed into the body. Formaldehyde itself might not be in products, but the ingredients that release formaldehyde often are. Formaldehyde-releasing chemicals are often used as preservatives in cosmetics, soaps, baby wipes, lotions, shampoos, cleaning products, and sunscreens. Because of this, you won't know these products release formaldehyde unless you know specifically what ingredients to look for.   Keep an eye out for:

  • Quarternium-15 is a preservative that releases formaldehyde. 
  • An antimicrobial agent, DMDM hydantoin acts on bacteria but also releases formaldehyde.

Excessive or Unnatural Fragrances


Synthetic chemicals such as phthalates are often included in many fragrance mixes, and these have been known to disrupt hormones. The presence of endocrine disruptors can affect fertility, increase the risk of endometriosis, and even cause some cancers. While fragrance can be named just as 'fragrance' on a baby lotion, phthalates are not required to be specified or listed. Since fragrance (or perfume) ingredients are treated as trade secrets, manufacturers do not have to always have to disclose them. Because of this, many consumers are unaware of what synthetic chemicals are added to unnatural fragrances. 

Even though a fragrance-free product still has a smell, it generally means that there aren't going to contain phthalates or other chemicals. These products don't contain excessive amounts of fragrance, though they may have some natural fragrances or essential oils added. However, 'unscented' does not necessarily mean there are no toxic chemicals in the product. When choosing a baby shampoo or body wash, opt for one with minimal amounts of fragrance, and if the fragrance is included, ensure that it's a natural source of fragrance rather than something synthetic.

Polyethylene Glycols

In many personal care products, including shampoo, polyethylene glycol is used as a thickener, softener, moisturizer, and penetration enhancer. But did you know that polyethylene glycols actually have a petrol base? This chemical can also be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and ethylene oxide during manufacturing processes. Which, as we mentioned earlier, are both known carcinogens. In addition to being a developmental toxin, ethylene oxide is also a hazardous substance. Babies with any sort of skin damage are particularly susceptible to the effects of polyethylene glycol products. This is certainly an ingredient to avoid. 

When shopping for baby shampoo and body wash, make sure to check the ingredient list carefully. Babies have very sensitive skin, so you need to take extra care to ensure there aren't any harmful ingredients. Hand Over Heart Pure Baby Shampoo and Body Wash is an natural, plant-based option that is gentle on the skin. It's recommended by pediatricians, is hypoallergenic, and formulated with no sulfates, formaldehyde, PEGs, parabens, perfumes, dyes, petroleum-based ingredients, or other harmful ingredients. What's more, it's 100% cruelty-free, making it the perfect option for your baby.


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