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baby soap and baby wash

Toxic Living: Baby Soap And Baby Wash

Bath soaps for adults often contain harsh synthetic ingredients. But that’s not true for children’s bath products, is it?

Unfortunately, it is. You’d think companies would be careful of the ingredients they use in products for babies and children. But that’s not always the case.

The Environmental Working Group says that every day the average child is exposed via body care products to 27 chemicals that have not been tested for children. You may find these chemicals in baby soap, body wash, shampoo, lotion, and other personal care products for children. Many of these chemicals have known links to cancer, hormone disruption, brain damage, and allergies.

Baby soap and baby wash

How safe is your baby soap and baby wash?

Baby soap and baby washes are rinse off products. So you'd think that they're not an issue, right?

While baby soap and baby wash are “rinse off” products and (ideally) don’t stay on bub’s skin too long, there are other ways by which ingredients in these products can enter the body.

When you give baby a bath, the warm water opens up her pores. If there are toxic ingredients in the baby body wash, they enter the skin faster, your baby’s largest organ.

Aside from that, the warmth of the bath vaporises many chemicals. And your baby breathes them in. Babies and toddlers like to put their hands in their mouths, so it’s easy for them to swallow these ingredients. It also gets in their eyes.Best Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet

What’s in baby soap and baby wash?

Most baby wash and liquid baby soaps have water acting as the solvent for the other ingredients.

There are emulsifiers that increase the product’s foaming action, make it thicker, and help the oils and water mix properly.

You'll also find detergents, which do the actual cleaning, and surfactants, which make bubbles.

When the main ingredient is water, it's a perfect breeding ground for mould and harmful bacteria. Preservatives protect the product and stop it going off.

Finally, there are often fragrances that help the product smell nice (and hide smells from some of the other ingredients).

Ingredients to avoid in baby soap and baby wash

Some ingredients can potentially cause health problems. So read your labels! And avoid baby bath products that contain any of these:


  • Benzalkonium chloride (also known as BZK, BAC, BKC) - a skin and respiratory irritant. And this chemical can cause severe eye irritation which can be toxic to the immune and nervous systems.
  • Benzyl alcohol - not good for products used around the mouth. It can cause severe allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasing chemicals - formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and can cause leukaemia and various other types of cancer. It’s also a known respiratory toxicant and a potent allergen.
  • Parabens - are chemicals that can mimic the hormone oestrogen and wreak havoc on the endocrine system. And they can cause developmental disorders, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, and cancer.
  • Phenoxyethanol - is another potential allergen. When ingested by infants, it can depress the central nervous system and cause respiratory distress and vomiting.
  • Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI) - MIT is an irritant and allergen that has been banned from leave-on products in the European Union. Also, MCI is a contact allergen.
  • Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate -  formaldehyde releaser that can cause skin and eye irritation even at concentrations lower than 1%.
  • Diazolidinyl urea - also a formaldehyde releaser. Can cause contact dermatitis.

Emulsifiers and others

  • PEGs (polyethylene glycols) - can be contaminated with ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, and 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen. PEGs are penetration enhancers. That means they allow other ingredients to be absorbed more easily through the skin. That's not a good thing when there are other toxic chemicals in the product.
  • Propylene glycol - also a penetration enhancer. It’s potentially toxic to the liver and kidneys, can cause mild conjunctivitis, and is a skin irritant.
  • Dioxane - you won’t find this on labels because it’s a chemical byproduct, not an ingredient. But it’s incredibly common. It was found in 57% of all baby soaps tested by EWG in 2007. 1,4-dioxane is possibly carcinogenic to humans and is toxic to the brain, kidneys, and liver. It’s commonly found in ingredients that end in -eth.


  • Ceteareth-12 / Ceteareth-20 - more penetration enhancers. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine - can cause allergic reactions in some people. Was voted Allergen of the Year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
  • Cocamide DEA - a common ingredient in “no tears” baby soaps and shampoos. DEA is an allergen and can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Cocamide DEA has also been linked to organ toxicity and may be contaminated with nitrosamines, most of which are possibly carcinogenic.
  • Laureth-4 - a skin and eye irritant. May be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.
  • Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) - both can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. SLS is a penetration enhancer that breaks down the skin's moisture barrier. SLES is often contaminated with 1,4-dioxane.


  • Fragrance, perfume, or parfum - these are catch all terms for potentially dangerous ingredients that companies are not obligated to reveal. Synthetic fragrances have been linked to eczema, allergies, and neurological problems. They can also be drying and irritating to skin.
  • Phthalates (often found in synthetic fragrances) - endocrine disruptors that can affect sperm health and other reproductive problems.


Synthetic colours and dyes are only there to make the baby bath products look more appealing. They aren’t necessary and they can contain heavy metals and cause allergic reactions.

How to avoid the toxic stuff

With so many natural baby products available these days, there’s really no reason to stick with toxic brands.

I know the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Doing your own research on which baby soaps and washes are best takes a lot of time. So we've done the work for you.

Check out our handpicked selection of baby bath products at Hello Charlie and grab our new Safer Baby Soap & Baby Wash Cheat Sheet.

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