How is Baby Shampoo Different Than Regular Shampoo?
Everyone is aware that there are shampoos made specifically for babies that are somehow different than “normal” shampoos, but do you know what the actual difference is?
There are hundreds of different types of shampoo on the market for all different types of hair and styling goals. There are shampoos that specifically help with dandruff and flakiness. There are shampoos designed for fine, limp hair, straight hair, and curly hair. There are shampoos to add bounce or shine or take way frizz. There are shampoos designed for color treated hair and gray hair. The variety of shampoos available is astounding and probably even confusing, but not many people know why they need a certain one, or why one is better for a certain hair type than others.
Baby shampoo is different than those other shampoos in that it’s not made for a specific hair type, or a specific condition, it’s made to ensure that it does not harm your baby.
What Makes Baby Shampoo Different Than Regular Shampoo?
The basic idea behind baby shampoo is having a shampoo that is less irritating to small children and even more importantly, won’t hurt their precious little eyes, ears, nose or mouth and make them cry during a bath.
Babies have very sensitive skin when they are first born, which can react harshly to some of the chemicals found in regular shampoos. As much as we may all the “smell of a baby”, using fragrant products or shampoos with harsh chemical or other additives can be harmful to their skin and faces.
As most of us have experienced, you can get quite a burning sensation when you accidentally get shampoo in your eyes. When you’re bathing your baby for the first time, you want this experience to be gentle and safe while fostering that bond between parent and child. You certainly don’t want to turn it into a stinging torturous moment for your baby and make bath time something they associate with pain. A little suds running into those bright eyes and perfect ears is inevitable so ingredients in baby shampoo helps prevents harm to our bundles of joy.
Every parent out there knows how hard it can be to give a squirmy newborn or toddler a bath. Water and soap makes them a soft and slippery nightmare for new parents and toddlers aren’t known for their ability to sit still while in the tub. No matter what you do, there’s a good chance you’re going to get soap or shampoo near the baby’s eyes and face. By utilizing a baby shampoo you can be sure that their eyes will not become irritated and burn like regular shampoo can do to an adult.
But what in the baby shampoo prevents this irritation?
The main differences between baby shampoo and regular shampoo are the dilution of the liquid, the pH, and the surfactants.
First, baby shampoos may have more water in them so as you are lathering their scalp and the bath water mixes in with the shampoo, the chemicals in the shampoo are even more diluted by the time they potentially run into baby’s eyes making it less likely to irritate.
Second, the pH is closer to neutral around 6- 7. Many regular shampoos have a lower pH (acidic) to match up with adult skin, or higher pH (alkaline) if they contain true soap. The fluids in our body, like tears, are 7.4 so baby shampoo aim to match a neutral pH in order to prevent burning and stinging.
Lastly, surfactants are what makes shampoos work; they create the lather and remove dirt and grease. Baby shampoo tends to use milder foaming agents and by using less harsh chemicals and cleansers they avoid irritating sensitive skin and eyes.
Baby shampoos shy away from sulfate based cleansers or surfactants and instead rely on amphoteric surfactants that can clean, while also preventing irritation.
What exactly is an amphoteric surfactant? Are you ready for a fun little chemistry lesson as it relates to shampoo?
Surfactants are molecules that have 2 parts with the ability to be both hydrophobic (water-avoiding) and hydrophilic (water-loving); like oil and water.
The hydrophobic part of the molecule consists of a hydrocarbon of variable lengths. Shorter chain lengths have stronger grease removing properties, longer chain lengths are more mild but don’t lather as well so shampoos have to find a balance.
The hydrophilic part of the molecule can be variety of functional groups and will determine the nature of the surfactant and its properties. These include sulphate, ethoxy sulphate, succinates, polyhydroxylates, quarternerised groups and many more. We know, that’s some pretty advanced science and hard to pronounce but hang with us!
Surfactants can be divided into four groups:
Anionic – carries a negative charge
Cationic – carries a positive charge
Nonionic – has no charge
Amphoteric – carries both positive and negative
Anionics provide a lot of the lather and grease fighting properties to shampoo. The most commonly used are sodium laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate. Occasionally ammonium lauryl ether sulphate and ammonium lauryl sulphate are used too.
Nonionics are rarely used in shampoos due to the harshness and can strip the hair and irritate the scalp. The few that do appear in formulations are very mild and act as foam stabilisers, thickeners or in formulations for greasy hair types. These include laureth-3 or 4, cocamide DEA or coco glucosides.
Amphoteric surfactants are very popular in shampoo formulations now especially since some people think they need to avoid sulfates. They are very useful for decreasing the irritancy of a formulation while increasing the active contents level of the product and quality of the lather produced. Examples are cocamido propyl betaine and cocamido betaine. These are what you will find in baby shampoos.
Cationics are used mostly in conditioners. Cationic molecules have the ability to cling to wet surfaces. Consequently they are not easily removed during the rinsing process and form the basis of conditioning.
The downside to amphoteric surfactants in baby shampoo is that it may not clean the hair as well and it may not lather up like you’re used to. Although it might not be squeaky clean it can leave your hair feeling softer since baby shampoo doesn’t contain all the stripping agents that a regular shampoo might.
This makes it perfect for babies as it will not irritate them and, while it doesn’t cut through grease and grime as well as sulfates, babies generally don’t require heavy duty cleansers during the early stages of life.
Can I Use Baby Shampoo as an Adult?
There’s nothing that says an adult cannot use a baby shampoo as part of their everyday hair care routine. In fact, with people becoming more health conscious, and concerned about that they put in and, on their bodies, using a baby shampoo will cut down on the sulfate cleansers you’re putting on your head.
If you have sensitive skin, color treated hair, or allergies to sulfates, then baby shampoo may be a great alternative to normal shampoos. But as we said above, the lack of harsher cleansing agents in the baby shampoo is going to mean your hair may not get as clean and the soap may not lather as well as you’re used to. You may have to shampoo, rinse, and repeat a couple times to get the desired cleanliness.
Overall though, you’re not doing any harm to yourself by using baby shampoo as an adult.
When it comes to shampoo the goal should be to make sure that you’re not irritating your scalp or your face. You want to find a shampoo that cleans, but also traps in moisture and leaves your hair feeling soft and luxurious. If you’re trying to avoid harsh chemicals, then that should be a priority as well.
Baby shampoo may not be the answer you’re looking for as an adult, but there are many different types of shampoos out there these days that refrain from the harsh chemicals and will help keep your hair healthy.
However, when it comes to small children and babies, we recommend sticking with a shampoo specifically designed for them. Their delicate skin and sensitive eyes can be easily irritated by the chemicals found in regular shampoos. There is no benefit to using regular shampoos on small children so keep the bath time fun and sting-free with shampoo formulated just for them.