The Best Baby Shampoo
The best baby shampoo should be as gentle as possible, leaving hair clean but avoiding ingredients that could dry or irritate delicate skin — or lead to bath-time 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 top picks: a range of products from national chains and up-and-coming companies that deliver.
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 -
- Earth’s Best Soothing Lavender Shampoo & Body Wash -
- CeraVe Baby Wash & Shampoo -
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 shampoo Newborns (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.
“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 Shampoo & Body Wash. It has a lavender scent and soothing, certified-organic ingredients like aloe vera, oat bran, and calendula. A 16-ounce bottle retails for about $9.
If you’re looking for a fragrance-free formula, we’d suggest Cerave Baby Wash & Shampoo. It has an ingredient list very similar to Johnson’s but no scent at all — making it an extra-safe option if your child has had allergic reactions to other skincare products. An 8-ounce bottle is around $10.
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.
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 post-puberty. For babies, however, “gentle” was exactly what we wanted.
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.
And we took a close look at “tear-free” formulas.
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 all unanimous: You don’t want to see this ingredient in 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 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. Dr. Bobby Buka, a leading dermatologist in New York City, was especially wary of synthetic fragrance, while Romanowski and dermatologist Dr. Jody Levine suggested avoiding essential oils. So for our sensitive-skin contenders, we skipped both, nixing anything with fragrance, parfum, or essential oil. To be extra safe, we also skipped products with limonene and linalool, fragrance components that can cause similar allergic reactions.
That said, fragrance isn’t inherently bad. We love a lightly scented shampoo as much as anyone, and most well-known brands, from Johnson & Johnson to Mustela, use scent in their products. 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.
But we still had a lot of options.
Fifty-five of them, to be exact. And as we delved further into our ingredient lists, our experts weren’t always in agreement. “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. 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). We wanted to find out which of these popular picks were most worth recommending.
Then we tried out our finalists for ourselves.
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 in between washings to add oil 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.
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 bathtime 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 going to be safe for most children. 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. And 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 is “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. And rather than parabens or phenoxyethanol, the shampoo uses sodium benzoate as a preservative. To put that into perspective, 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 Puracy. But Johnson’s Baby Naturals uses a flip-top that requires too much force to open easily with one hand.
Runners-Up for Best Overall
Puracy Natural Baby Shampoo and Body Wash has an ingredient list similar to Johnson & Johnson, but it’s closer to gel than liquid, making it a good option if you don’t like runny shampoos. It has a pleasant citrus aroma that comes from grapefruit essential oil. If you order online, just be aware that it comes with a pump top you’ll have to screw in yourself — a process we found a little messy. A 16-ounce bottle will run you $13.
If you prefer to seek out smaller brands, we’d suggest Mummy's Miracle Baby Shampoo. The company, Mummy’s Miracle, was founded in 2010 by mom and entrepreneur Ify Chuke-Nwobi and focuses on baby care products with natural ingredients. The shampoo passed our hands-on testing with flying colors, and — like all products in the Mummy’s Miracle line — contains Moringa seed extract, an ingredient produced from the seed pods of the Moringa tree that has soothing anti-inflammatory properties. An 8-ounce bottle retails for $12.
Burt's Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash is a popular and widely available brand that’s also worth a mention. This shampoo didn’t score quite as highly during testing, due to the fact that it took more rinsing to fully remove from our hair, but testers enjoyed the sweet, honey-infused scent. A 21-ounce bottle runs about $14.
Organic baby shampoo is a tricky space to navigate. In the US, only agricultural products can be certified organic. So the next best thing is to look for a shampoo that uses certified-organic ingredients, like herbal extracts and other plant-based additives. And in this space, Earth’s Best Organic Soothing Shampoo and Body Wash was our favorite. The formula is 70 percent organic, and includes a whole slew of soothing natural ingredients, from aloe vera to oat bran.
We loved the soothing lavender scent of Earth’s Best, although its pop cap was a little hard to open.
While Earth’s Best cleaned our hair well, it’s worth noting that the shampoo itself was a little difficult to wash out. We had to rinse for a few extra seconds to remove all residue. 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.
If you want to avoid fragrances entirely, we’d suggest CeraVe Baby Wash and Shampoo, which is free of both synthetic scent and essential oils. This shampoo does have a faintly sweet aroma, but the scent comes from its coconut-oil based surfactants rather than perfume.
CeraVe stood out because of its heavy-duty moisturizers: It left our hair “I might use baby shampoo from now on” levels 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. Unlike Aveeno’s flip cap, CeraVe also dispenses with a pump. An 8-ounce bottle retails for $10.
SheaMoisture Fragrance-Free Baby Wash & Shampoo is notably less sudsy than CeraVe, and our hair didn’t achieve quite the same level of silkiness. But if you find even the faintly sweet scent of CeraVe too overpowering, SheaMoisture is your best bet. It had a faintly soapy undertone, but no other odor. A 13-ounce bottle costs about $10.
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 quaternium-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.