A Parents’ Guide to the Best Baby Shampoo & Gentle Baby Wash

by California Baby

Newborn skin is very sensitive, especially to irritants, harsh chemicals and potential allergens like fragrance. Yet, California Baby’s founder Jessica Iclisoy was shocked to find known carcinogens in baby shampoo — even ones purchased at her local health foods store. That was 1990. Fast-forward 30 years and the market today is brimming with “clean” and “gentle” claims that don’t always live up to their hype. So how are parents to know what’s best for baby skin?

The best baby shampoo and baby wash is 1) made with organic and plant-based ingredients that are free of common contaminants; 2) developed using a multi-step water purification process that kills bacteria; and 3) manufactured using suppliers that are single-source facilities to eliminate cross-contamination. As Jessica learned decades ago, it’s not just the raw ingredients that make a shampoo or body wash best for babies. It’s every step of the journey from seed to shelf.

Why do newborns need a gentler baby shampoo and body wash? 

Babies have more delicate and vulnerable skin than kids and adults. With skin barriers up to 30% thinner than grown-ups, they lose moisture more quickly, making their skin more prone to dryness, irritation and increased absorption. In the first few months of life, both babies’ skin barrier and immune system are still developing. This means that their skin is literally still learning which substances are friends and which are foes—and it might overreact to triggers, especially with frequent use. 

These days, more babies and kids are developing skin sensitivities to allergens and irritants that can follow them into adulthood. There’s a lot you can do to protect your little one’s skin, starting with only bathing baby 2 to 3 times a week and using a fragrance-free, dye-free baby wash like our Super Sensitive Shampoo & Bodywash. 

Although formulated with baby in mind, even adults with sensitive skin swear by our OG formula to get the job done without triggering sensitivities. Why? Because we’ve done A LOT of work to make sure our formula isn’t only made with the best, most pure plant-based raw ingredients but by design there’s no room in the formulation process for contaminants to sneak in. 

Meet the baby shampoo and body wash that started it all… 

Our original Calming Shampoo & Bodywash is the product that launched California Baby in 1995 and is still a bestseller today. We’ve introduced several new scents to the Shampoo & Bodywash family over the years and improved the formula over time, but some things remain the the same: derived from plant-based ingredients and made in small batches at our manufacturing facility in Los Angeles with many botanicals grown on our organic farm on the Central Coast.   

Famously gentle and non-drying, our baby shampoo formula stays far away from GMOs, triclosan, SLS, betaines and other harsh chemicals known to dry and irritate the skin. And any scent we use is made from 100% pure essential oils that are universally well-tolerated and have zero of the many unlisted chemicals commonly hidden in synthetic fragrances. (Synthetic fragrance, by the way, is a top culprit behind most skin reactions and are known endocrine disruptors.) 

The first and only USDA-certified 100% biobased baby shampoo and body wash

To date, California Baby Shampoo & Bodywash is the first and only to be certified 100-percent biobased by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA only certifies biobased products that have been carbon-14 tested by an independent lab to identify the percentage of plant sources versus petrochemical sources. The test results go directly to the USDA for evaluation, verification and certification. Biobased labels help consumers better understand what’s in the products they use and the accuracy of marketing claims. So look for 100% plant-based!

Claims of natural, clean or plant-based that aren’t backed up by independent testing risk being misleading, even if unintentionally. Unless they test, a brand does not know what contaminants might have been introduced during the raw material selection and manufacturing processes. A lot of companies that are “paraben-free” don’t know if parabens are in their products or not. This can lead to accidental “clean” and green-washing—and a lot of frustration for anyone with sensitive skin who continues to experience reactivity despite “free of” or “made without” marketing lingo. If you or your baby have an allergy, sensitivity or are immuno-compromised, you need to be able to trust that label. 

What makes our baby shampoo so gentle for adults with sensitive skin?

We formulate for baby skin, yet many of our customers are adults with sensitive skin, allergies or eczema who come to California Baby because they need something very gentle and someone they can trust. We’re obsessively picky about the selection of our raw materials, prioritizing organically grown biobased ingredients grown without toxic pesticides and single-source facilities to eliminate cross-contamination. First, we’ll take a look at some of our key ingredient choices, then take you on a tour of our very own FDA Registered and certified organic manufacturing facility. 

Plant-derived cleansers, not sulfates

California Baby uses glucosides—a common compound found in plants—instead of sulfates as the cleansing component in our baby wash and shampoo. Sulfates, widely used in body washes and hair care products, are really good at removing oils because they were developed by the Navy to degrease engine parts. Given the often lax and outdated regulation of the personal care industry, it’s not unusual for commercial chemicals like sulfates to find their way into your everyday products.  

Stripping the skin and hair of their natural oils every time we shower—which is what degreasers were developed to do—might make us feel cleaner but doesn’t actually set us up for healthy success. We need those oils and when we’re constantly stripping them away, our skin is more prone to irritation, peeling and dryness and hair can lose its vitality. Sulfates in particular can lead to a cycle of constant drying due to their very small size that gets absorbed into the top layer of the skin (not the bloodstream, mind you). Our approach to clean skin and healthy hair is to gently break down the day's dirt and grime with a plant-based cleanser that retains that natural, healthy lipid layer you want. 

Well-tolerated essential oils, not synthetic fragrances 

Although our baby shampoo and bodywashes come in several irresistible scents, none of them contain synthetic fragrances. Instead, we use only the purest essential oils that are tested pesticide-free. Of course, even essential oils can trigger sensitivity in some people with very sensitive skin, that is why we offer our Super Sensitive™ Shampoo & Bodywash which has no fragrance added. Our Super Sensitive line does not contain any scent-masking chemicals which are often used in “no fragrance” products. 

Many of the chemical compounds used in “fragrance” are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors—but they’re not reported on the label. Fragrance is a catch-all term that can represent complex blends of thousands of ingredients—synthetic or natural. Because they are considered trade secrets, fragrances do not fall under the purview of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), the FDA law that requires brands to disclose their ingredient lists. This loophole allows companies to hide potentially harmful ingredients in their formulas—including in baby products.

Sensitive skin or not, we recommend avoiding synthetic fragrances. As the number one allergen in cosmetics, it beats out both preservatives and dyes, and allergic reactions are on the rise—especially in kids. Deciphering fragrances in skincare products is tricky business because of the shroud of secrecy around them and confusing marketing jargon that doesn’t always mean what it sounds like. For example, “unscented” might still include synthetic fragrance added to mask or neutralize the formula’s natural scent and even a so-called “natural fragrance” could mean the cocktail of synthetics is crafted to mimic a natural scent, not that the fragrance is derived from natural sources. 


Plant-based actives to preserve, not synthetic preservatives

California Baby spent 6 years to develop our own 100% plant-based approach to preserving our products without petroleum-based synthetics. Any formula with a high percentage of water (so, most) needs something added to keep harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms from thriving. Yet common preservatives, including parabens and formaldehyde, are linked to skin irritation, allergies and even eczema. Our 100% plant-based preservative system is just as effective and a lot gentler on sensitive skin.

Our innovative approach to preserving our products is based on extracting actives compounds from plants with anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and adhering to a thorough water purification process (more on that in a minute). Extraction is a complex, tech-heavy process that must first isolate the desired bioactive before it can be added to the formula. Unlike parabens, there is no one-active-fits-all that we can simply mix in any formula and call it good. In our baby shampoo and body washes, we extract actives from anise seed and basil (these are extracts, not essential oils).

source: https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/california-babyr-creates-new-plant-based-preservative 

Free of common allergens & cross-contamination

Going gluten-free wasn’t our idea — it was our customers. California Baby became one of the first brands to eliminate gluten from its products because so many of our customers needed it and asked us for it. Today, we happily formulate all of our products without not just gluten but other top allergens, too, including soy, sesame, oat, dairy and nuts. But we also know it’s not enough to simply formulate without those allergens. If a product claiming to be gluten-free is manufactured in a facility that contains gluten, there will be cross-contamination. In order to preserve the purity and integrity of our baby shampoo and every other product, California Baby only uses single-source facilities so allergens don’t get that chance to cross-contaminate. 

Our manufacturing facility gives us the ability to perfect product purity 

A big reason California Baby can be so vigilant with our formulation is because we manufacture 100-percent of our products ourselves in our own solar-powered FDA Registered and organic manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, CA—just a short distance from our organic farm up the coast in Santa Barbara. It’s an advantage that allows us to make decisions most manufacturers simply wouldn’t, like small-batching and slow-batching to get the best, most pure results. In fact, some days we only produce one batch, sometimes only one batch in two days to make sure it meets our standards of purity and integrity — something almost unheard of in the personal care industry today. 

Most companies use a contract manufacturer or private label—putting their label on an already existing formula—to produce their products. Contract manufacturers will make “custom” formulas but they’re limited by their facilities capabilities and, of course, they are in business to make a profit. Producing a single batch of a formula in a day or taking an extra hour or two to more thoroughly purify a formula’s water, both regular practices at California Baby’s facility, just doesn’t make sense for contract manufacturers who must prioritize speed and volume. In fact, even if we wanted to contract someone else, manufacturers simply wouldn’t make our products because we insist on a slower, more thorough process. 


Our next-level water purification process

Conventional contract manufacturers aren’t concerned with the purity of the water they use because they dose the end product with high levels of synthetic preservatives and antibacterials. But water is actually the dirtiest ingredient in any skincare product and the perfect medium for bacteria growth when not properly purified. 

That’s why we take the opposite approach: start with very clean, highly purified water and use actives in the formulation to preserve the product. Our multistep purification process kills bacteria in water with reverse osmosis filtration, ultraviolet sterilization and pasteurization instead of dumping harsh bactericides in the water. This requires a lot of extra time for every batch, but we believe the end result—more pure, fewer irritants—is worth it. 

First, reverse osmosis filtration

This step alone includes multiple stages of filtration to remove all the “big” stuff like dirt, dust and chlorine.

Next, ultraviolet light sterilization…twice

Filtration alone cannot eliminate all microorganisms. Our water flows through a UV chamber optimized for the highest UV energy to disinfect and inactivate microbes. We do this not once but twice with every batch of products we make.

Finally, pasteurization

This process involves heating the water to 185 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes to kill any remaining pathogens. Then we let the water cool and we are finally ready to start making our products! Most players in the personal care industry consider this step too time-consuming and expensive, preferring instead to allocate their budgets to marketing. For us, it’s time and money well spent.  

Not only are we hyper-attentive to the purity of our water from the beginning, but we also test each raw material before adding it to the water. Organically grown or plant-based ingredients can start with a higher bacteria count and need to be thoroughly vetted. This matters for babies, kids and adults with sensitive skin in particular because too many products that claim to be safe for sensitive skin haven’t gone through the necessary steps to remove those irritants. We take the purity of our products very seriously, especially baby shampoo and baby wash that come into contact with delicate skin frequently and consistently.  

A few of our favorite baby shampoos and body washes for sensitive skin

Whether you’re in your first few weeks with your new little one, working on a calming bedtime routine or dealing with eczema (theirs or yours), we have a baby shampoo and body wash to make bathtime bonding even better.  

Calming Lavender

Sometimes you just can’t beat the original. Scented with French lavender essential oil, our Calming Shampoo & Bodywash is a family favorite for a relaxing pre-sleepy time bath routine. We chose French lavender for its calming properties and because it’s well-tolerated by skin, even most sensitive skin. Like all our scents, we only use the highest quality essential oils that have been tested pesticide-free. French lavender has been one of Jessica’s favorite scents since California Baby started—so it only made sense that we would grow our own right alongside the calendula flowers that serve as a primary ingredient in so many of our baby products. 

Nourishing Calendula

Speaking of calendula, our Calendula Shampoo & Bodwash has the same calming scent from French lavender, but with a big dollop of skin-soothing calendula mixed in. Calendula gives this baby shampoo a somewhat softer, almost creamy feel and adds nourishing benefits to every bathtime. 

Super Sensitive

A baby wash so gentle, many hospitals use our Super Sensitive Shampoo & Bodywash  in their pediatric and neo-natal intensive care units.  With no added fragrance or scent-masking agents, this is our number one recommendation for newborns. Why? Because smells play an important role in early bonding between baby and parents. We don’t want to interrupt that bonding with a scent that isn’t mom’s or dad’s, so starting with the gentlest, no-fragrance option is perfect for newborns.

Eczema Relief

Whether you’re a lifelong eczema sufferer or dealing with baby eczema for the first time, our Therapeutic Relief Eczema Shampoo & Bodywash is a steroid-free, unscented baby wash for irritated skin. It’s made with certified organic, gluten-free oatmeal that’s finely ground to help soothe and hydrate the skin. For extra relief, we added certified organic calendula extract and aloe vera—both known to help soothe and moisturize. Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by food allergies, making it even more important to opt for a baby shampoo or wash free of gluten, soy, sesame, shellfish, dairy and nuts (except coconut). Since we make our own in-house, there’s no risk of cross-contamination.

The takeaway

Simply put, pure products come from a pure process—from seed all the way to your shelf. Not all companies are willing to make the financial commitment necessary to ensure the baby shampoo and baby wash they send out into the world is not only made with ingredients safe for sensitive skin but also made in such a way that common allergens, irritants, contaminants and bacteria aren’t introduced during manufacturing. California Baby’s approach to formulation has always been and will always be to ask ourselves, how do we make the best product? Not, how do we cut costs? We know our hyper-attention to detail and commitment to getting it right pays off for our customers, especially babies and anyone with sensitive skin. 


DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein should NOT be used as a substitute for the advice of an appropriately qualified and licensed physician or other health care provider. The information provided here is for informational purposes only.

California Baby