Want to keep your kids scalp and skin safe from unnecessary toxins? Here’s what I do for non-toxic hair care for kids, as well as a kid-safe shampoo recipe that’s easy to make yourself!
I am not a doctor, or a scientist. The views in this post are from my own personal research. For the health of yourself and your family, I want to encourage you to always check labels on any personal care products, as well as your food.
An unnatural beginning.
Ten years ago, when I had my first baby, I was just like every other new mom out there. I set up a baby registry with all the things my friends and the internet said a newborn needed. Among those things, baby shampoo.
I mean, what’s more natural than lathering up your cute newborn’s head with a dollop of Johnson’s tear-free baby shampoo? We all probably have baby photos of ourselves or our siblings with Santa beards or funny hair-dos from soapy bubble baths. Or at least our moms do… 😉
But I never really thought about the ingredients in those shampoos and bubble baths, and the effects they could be having on my child’s health.
By the time my oldest was 2 years old, and my second was about 8 months, I began to wonder. My toddler’s head was covered with cradle cap, and worse than that, her head began to smell awful! I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, so I did what any other mom would do when her kid’s head smells. I washed her hair.
But every time I washed her hair, it smelled worse.
I was so confused. Finally I decided it was time to change things up and see what happened. So I cut the Johnson’s baby shampoo. And friends, you’ll never believe what happened next….
She was fine.
Her hair was fine. Not only was it fine, it didn’t smell at all! Slowly the cradle cap dissipated, and the stubborn patches came right off with coconut oil.
What’s that for?
It turns out, my daughter’s tender scalp couldn’t handle the chemicals in the shampoo. Not that companies who make baby skincare products don’t try to use gentle chemicals, I’m sure they do. But my point isn’t that it doesn’t make your baby cry, my point is that even gentle chemicals still aren’t necessarily natural ones.
Just take a look at the ingredients in the Johnson’s stuff I used to use:
“Water (eau), Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate, Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, PEG-150 Distearate, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-10, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Parfum.”
I don’t know about you, but the only things in there I recognize are water, glycerin, sodium chloride, and citric acid. And as anyone living a real food lifestyle knows, if you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your body!
Let’s get into the nitty gritty of these ingredients – what they are, and what they do:
Cocamidopropyl Betaine (CAPB) is a mixture of coconut oil derivatives and dimethylaminopropylamine. It is used as a surfactant in personal care products. According to Wikipaedia CAPB can cause skin reactions due to the amidoamine (a fatty acid) and dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA) it contains. DMAPA is moderately toxic when ingested.
PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate is an ethoxylated sorbitan monoester of lauric acid with an average of 80 moles of ethylene oxide. Yeah, that’s Greek to me too. Actually, I’d probably understand Greek better than that. But anyway, suffice it to say that there is strong evidence that this ingredient is a human skin allergen. It’s usually used as a fragrance, a surfactant, and an emulsifying agent.
Sodium Trideceth Sulfate, a surfactant and foaming agent, is the sodium salt of sulfated ethoxylated Tridecyl Alcohol. It’s generally not associated with any skin allergies, and is usually considered safe, but I would suggest staying away from it if you have any sulfa allergies.
PEG-150 Distearate is a polyethylene glycol diester of stearic acid and is used as a surfactant and thickening agent and is not considered toxic. It should be noted, however, that impurities of PEG-150 Distearate have been known to increase the incidences of brain, uterine and breast cancers, and leukemia.
Polyquaternium-10 is a synthetic polymeric antistatic agent and a preservative that keeps bugs from growing in your shampoo by releasing formaldehyde, which many people react very negatively to. Generally speaking, though, it’s not considered to be toxic. I guess the question you should be asking is this: is having non-static-y hair on your baby’s head really that important?
Tetrasodium EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetc Acid) is a chelating agents (binding with metals to make lotions more stable and soaps lather better) that’s made from formaldehyde and sodium cyanide. While it’s generally considered low concern on the toxic level, I’m still not ok with formaldehyde products on my kids’ heads.
Sodium Chloride… basically table salt.
Citric Acid is an alpha hydroxy acid naturally found in citric fruits and juices. It’s primary role is to adjust the pH balance (acidity) of skincare products and/or promote skin peeling and re-growth in the case of anti-aging products. Even though citric acid can naturally be found, the industrial food ingenuity has been making it from Aspergillus niger, AKA common black mold, since WWI! That’s right folks. Natural wasn’t good enough. Mold by-products are cheaper.
Sodium Hydroxide is a highly caustic and reactive inorganic base and has been classified as “expected to be toxic or harmful“ by the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. Also known as lye, it can cause chemical burns and may induce permanent blindness upon contact with eyes. Yay! We all know kids are famous to never get things in their eyes… Sodium hydroxide is corrosive to several metals, and the reaction produces flammable hydrogen gas on contact.
Sodium Benzoate is a sodium salt used as a preservative. It’s naturally present at extremely low levels in berries, apples, cinnamon, and a few other natural foods. By itself the natural chemical is not harmful, but when combined with citric acid (see above!) lab-synthesized sodium benzoate forms benzene, a carcinogen associated with leukemia and other blood cancers.
Ethylhexylglycerin is a preservative made from vegetable glycerin. But don’t let that fool you, it is a known skin and lung irritant, and can possibly damage the eyes!
Phenoxyethanol is a preservative known to cause skin, lung, and eye irritation. It’s use has been restricted to cosmetics, which must mean it’s harmless…
And last, but not least, Parfum, which is another name for fragrance. When you see this on a product label it basically means there can be any number of undisclosed mixtures of scent chemicals and ingredients. Fragrance mixes have long been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and possible harmful effects on the reproductive system. Honestly, your baby will still smell good without it.
It’s all connected.
I can hear you now: “Good grief, Raia! I’m washing my kid’s hair with it, not feeding it to her!” Sorry to break it to you, but your body is very well connected. Whatever you put on your skin makes it’s way to your blood stream and can cause an allergic reaction, just as if you were eating it. So if you wouldn’t feel safe accidentally ingesting it, I’d suggest thinking long and hard about putting it on your skin.
Honestly though, unless your baby is rolling around in mud all day, you don’t need to use shampoo on his hair. Shampoo of any kind will strip your skin and hair of its natural oils, even if just a little bit. Beside the toddler/babyhood of my two oldest girls, none of my 5 kids have ever used shampoo of any kind on a regular basis. And they all have gorgeous hair!
Non-toxic hair care for kids.
Want to know my secret to keeping my kiddos’ hair clean? Good ol’ H2O. That’s right, when washing my kids’ hair I simply wet it well and gently massage their scalp with my hands. The end!
I started washing my kids’ hair with nothing but water about 8 years ago now, and I’ve never looked back. We have all different hair-types in my family, too. My oldest and youngest have fine, straight hair, my second has incredibly long, curly hair. My boy… well, he has a buzz-cut, so that doesn’t need much anyway, and my 4th has long, thick hair. Water works on all of them!
If they do happen to come in from playing outside with a headful of dirt, or accidentally get a bunch of greasy food in their hair (it’s been known to happen!), I use a mild mixture of organic Castile soap and kid-safe essential oils.
Lemon and melaleuca are great for dealing with greasy hair, and melaleuca is said to strengthen hair, as well. They are both safe for use with babies that are over the age of 6 months. For younger babies, water really is sufficient.
As my older girls get closer to puberty, I fully expect things to change, but I don’t expect that I’ll need to get a “real” shampoo. I’ve been using an “adult” version of this kid-safe shampoo for over a year now (by adult I just mean essential oils that aren’t considered safe for kids), and our hair is perfectly fine. 😉
In the recipe card I’ve linked to some of the products from my affiliate partners that I like to use. Purchasing through these links won’t cost you anything extra. Thanks! 😉
Safe for ages 6 months and up.
- 8 drops lemon essential oil (I use this one)
- 10 drops melaleuca essential oil (I use this one)
- 1/4 cup Castile soap (I like to use this one)
- 1/2 cup filtered water
Combine all ingredients in a liquid measuring cup and pour into a 12 oz. bottle with a squirt-lid.
Store in the shower.
To use, shake well and pour about a dime-sized portion into your palm. Rub into the scalp and work your way down through the hair.
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I love this. I have 4 little boys’ hair I have to take care of, and I’m always looking for nontoxic alternatives.
I’m glad you found it helpful, Vanessa!
Oh my goodness Raia … these precious photos!!! You have such a beautiful family. Love these safe DIY tips for hair care. It’s so important to keep those toxic chemicals that are in all of the mainstream products off of our littles. Thank you for sharing this wonderful method!
Thanks, Emily! Those little people are so precious to me. 🙂
Lucky you you have cute little models with great hair! Love this post and non toxic alternatives for kids!
Haha! Yeah… 😉 Thanks, Linda!
I was just as naive as you were when I first became a mom. But you live and learn and am so glad we know better now, right? And your girls are so adorbs!
Thanks, Anya! Thankfully our kids are forgiving, too!
I usually use a diluted castile soap for both body and hair, will have to add a few drops of lemon and melaleuca to it!
I hope you find it helpful!
This is what we do, castile or homemade bar soap! I still use a “natural” conditioner for me and my girls to help with tangles, any ideas for that?
I’ve found that an apple cider vinegar and water mix (about a tablespoon acv to 12 oz. water) works well for me. I put it in an old shampoo bottle and squirt it on like shampoo, then massage it around and rinse. The smell doesn’t last long… 😉
Wow, this changes things for me. At 23, I still use the baby shampoo because I always thought it was safer for my hair and body…. yikes. Thanks for sharing!
Glad to share, Shelby! Your hair might hate you for a few days when you switch, because it’s used to being completely stripped with chemicals every time you wash it, but don’t worry, it’ll even itself out. 😉
Oh my goodness! Those pictures are ADORABLE! Love these natural hair care solutions. We adore essential oils and Plant Therapy is a company we have grown to love and trust!!! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Kelsey. 😉 Glad to share!
Interesting “adult” shampoo but I’ve never seen 4 cups of liquid (castile soap) fit into a 12oz bottle. Do you mean 1/4 cup?
Oh my goodness! Yes! Thanks for seeing that. Haha.
Does adding the water to the castile soap shorten the shelf life any?
Not that I’m aware of.