Johnson & Johnson baby soap and Desitin were both among the products I purchased for baby Kimball number one six years ago.
I also had a touchy relationship with them, because although I didn’t really question their ingredients at first, I was cautious about using them:
Since babies seem to grab the tube of Desitin amongst a pile of 100 toys and choose to put it in their mouths, having it around always made me nervous for that reason.
And I was keenly aware of the drying out feature of soap, so I always insisted that my babies/kids play in the bath water first, then be washed with the soap (used sparingly), then get out so they weren’t sitting in soapy bath water that might irritate sensitive skin.
When my son started developing eczema spots during the winters, I became even more vigilant about him sitting in the soap, but oddly enough I didn’t really look for safer soap.
The Naughty List
The dive into the ingredients list began when I was reading a bunch of books just before I started writing Kitchen Stewardship®. One of them, Living Green by Greg Horn, listed the 10 worst chemicals to watch for in personal products. Since I didn’t feel ready (or didn’t know how?) to find all-natural options, I thought memorizing this list and avoiding them would be a golden idea.
One of the first places I remember finding a top 10 perpetrator was on the Johnson & Johnson baby wash: quaternium-15 (or maybe 20? This was 3 years ago!). I’m sure my eyebrows hit the roof.
I’m also sure we finished the bottle, only in even smaller amounts and getting out of the tub even faster, because that’s the way I rolled at the time: finish what you have, then seek something new and improved.
We’ve had a number of random “better for you” soaps since the J&J passed away, but with the advent of a brand new life and new sensitive skin, I really wanted to officially seek out a safer soap.
Natural Soap for Baby
I’ve gotten to test out 4 brands with Jonathan:
In general nowadays, I still seek to avoid that naughty top 10 list, but I prefer to see 100% of the ingredients be completely recognizable: things I could eat like coconut or olive oil, essential oils, and natural products like beeswax. I’m just excited to know there are options out there that don’t require me to memorize a list of 10 unpronounceable words!
I’m happy to share our family’s reviews on the products with you today.
Homemade Bar Soaps
I’m grouping these together because honestly, other than a few differences in ingredients, most bar soaps from a small producer are going to be similar in how they work. If you read the ingredients and see all words that you recognize, it’s probably a good non-toxic purchase.
Here are the ingredients for the goat’s milk soap from MadeOn:
Saponified Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Goat Milk, Calendula flower petals (or honey, depending on the “flavor” you choose)
Graham Gardens has two different formulations for their soap:
Saponified oils (avocado, castor, coconut, palm & sunflower), zinc oxide, and a variety of essential oils depending on your “flavor”.
Saponified oils (castor, coconut, palm, olive & shea butter), coconut milk, and essential oils
What I love:
- These soaps are so gentle and really don’t seem to dry Jonathan’s head out.
- Bar soaps can last a long time as long as they’re not immersed in the bath water or drowning in shower water daily.
- The ingredients! You can’t get much safer…
- The scents: I’ve tried a number of GG’s scents, and oh, my – seriously delectable and a real treat. This is the gift you get people who like good smelling things. The MadeOn soaps are not scented but impart a nice, clean smell. (Win soap from Graham Gardens as part of a $240 package this week right HERE (link no longer available)!)
- I would use either of these as a hand soap at the sink, too.
- Any bar soap can be hard to juggle in a slippery tub with an infant. I really had trouble juggling a bar when John was having sponge baths on the counter.
- The bar can disappear quickly if it’s stored at the wrong place in the shower such that water hits it too often.
Natural Non-scents Hand to Toe Wash
The foaming pump is a totally different experience for baby baths, but the ingredients are equally as safe:
Saponified Cocos nucifera (organic coconut) oil, Saponified Olea europaea (organic olive) oil, Aloe barbadensis (organic aloe) leaf juice, Kosher vegetable glycerin, Butyrospermun parkii (organic shea) butter, Potassium citrate, Calendula officinalis (organic calendula) extract
What I love:
- So. Easy. Anything one-handed is golden when you have a baby, so a foaming pump – especially one that works really, really well (and this is from someone who’s tried a lot of foaming pumps and recognizes one that will last) – is genius.
- Half a squirt goes a long way. As my son pointed out now that he reads everything he sees, the bottle “contains 300 pumps.” That actually sounds like it could go pretty fast if you use 3-4 pumps per bath, per kid, but you really only need one or one-and-a-half for a whole baby.
- I use it on hair too – versatile!
- Safe ingredients!
- The smell – in my humble opinion, the smell on baby’s head is only okay. I kind of miss that sweet, clean smell, even if it was produced by chemicals. ???
Arbonne ABC Baby Care
This was an oops on my part. I had received multiple recommendations from readers about Arbonne’s sunscreen (since I have that big old natural sunscreen review), so when I received an email inquiry from an independent consultant, I thought, “Why not?”
I was happy to have the chance to test out the sunscreen, and I never even checked out the ingredients. I felt horribly when I had to email my contact and tell her that they weren’t really up to par:
Water, lauryl glucoside, cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-80 sorbitan laurate, PEG-120 methyl glucose dioleate, butylene glycol, aloe barbadensis leaf exract, anthemis nobilis flower extract, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, avena sativa (oat) kernel extract, prunus persica (peach) fruit extract, plantago major leaf extract, retinyl palmitate, ascorbyl palmitate, tocopheryl acetate, hydrogenated lecithin, panthenol, triethanolamine, citric acid, sodium chloride, phenosyethanol, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, hyxylene glycol, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, sorbic acid, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) peel oil, dipteryx odorata seed extract, citrus reticulata (tangerine) leaf oil, citrus medica limonum (lemon) peel oil, jasminum officinale (jasmine) oil, limonene.
Yes, I really did type all that. I’m not spell-checking it though.
I see this a lot on “natural” products: a handful of unpronounceables, then some extracts that are from real plants in nature, than another handful of long words, then some oils. There aren’t any parabens, so that’s good, but I’m fairly certain triethanolamine was on that top 10 dirty chemicals list. This is from the seller:
All products are formulated WITHOUT animal products, animal byproducts, formaldehyde donating preservatives, PABA, pretoleum & petroleum based ingredients, mineral oil, benzene, phthalates and toluene.
I looked up Arbonne’s product at the EWG Skin Deep cosmetic safety database, and they only had 5-year-old formulations – but it rated a 5, which is certainly not the safest, and not what I want for my baby. (Why haven’t they updated their ingredients at EWG?)
I do appreciate that companies are starting to steer away from some of the no-no ingredients that really cause a lot of problems, but I still can’t say I love all the components. Otherwise I’d feel somewhat safe saying that Arbonne’s soap is most likely a better option than your average brand name baby soap, but for the price upgrade, I’d rather go all the way to non-toxic, you know?
That said, my big kids love the body wash (I can’t keep them safe from everything with chemicals, but I’m trying with John, at least for now!). My mom said it well: “Their heads smell so good, not like a fragrance, but just clean.” My daughter thinks it’s cool that it makes bubbles in the tub like bubble bath.
Safe Baby Bottom Cream
Even though we’ve always used disposable diapers, our family has been lucky in general to avoid diaper rash most of the time. I didn’t use that Desitin very often with Paul, and for Leah’s second half of her diapering years, I used plain coconut oil on her bottom.
For general everyday moisturizing and protection, I think coconut oil is a great option, and frugal too. I just kept a tiny jar on the changing table with a demitasse spoon in it so I didn’t have to dip my finger right into the coconut oil.
For true healing from nasty diaper rash, though, I’m guessing you’d need something with a little more potency. Leah has been getting dry patchy irritation on her lower back area from wearing a diaper at night, and I tried half and half (of course!) of these two creams on her. They both eradicated the problem in one day, so I’m super pleased with that result.
MadeOn Simply Soothing Diaper Rash Cream
Three simple ingredients: coconut oil, zinc oxide, beeswax. The Simply Soothing cream moisturizes, protects, and heals. Zinc oxide is the same active ingredient as your common diaper cream (like Desitin) but delivered without all the other random chemicals. The beeswax makes everything stay together and remain on the skin for protection.
The only trouble is that it can be hard to get much out with your finger if the temps are below 70F. On a warm day, the cream acts like cream. In cooler temps, it’s much more solid. The cool part about working with a small company with a real person behind it is that Renee is actively taking feedback and working on a “winter version” of the diaper cream.
She sent me some, but wouldn’t you know it – it’s 80 degrees here in Michigan this week, out of this world for October! I will definitely be doing some side-by-side tests once it’s 65 in the house, but at 73F this morning, I’m still thinking the winter formula needs a little work to get it softer. Want to try it yourself? Win it HERE (link no longer available) along with over $200 worth of goodies!
Angel Baby Bottom Balm
The formula for the bottom balm from Earth Mama is totally different, based in olive oil. It’s much more soft, but also seems to come off the bottom easier – maybe it doesn’t protect quite as well?
Olea europaea (organic olive) oil, Calendula officinalis (organic calendula) extract, Hypericum perforatum (organic St. John’s wort) extract, Stellaria media (organic chickweed) extract, Plantago major (organic plantain extract), Butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, Euphorbia antisyphilitica (candelilla), Simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba) oil, proprietary blend of Lavandula angustifolia (organic lavender) oil, Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil and Commiphora myrrha (myrrh) oil
Some of those are healing, some antibacterial and would probably help fight yeast infections, and some moisturizing. (Look at me learning about my oils and herbs!) What I know is that it really did work on Leah’s diaper rash, so I’m happy to recommend it.
Cool part: you can also use the bottom balm on scrapes, burns, and other owies of childhood.
Not as cool part: The 2 oz. tub costs more than MadeOn’s 4 oz. tub.
Getting Rid of Cradle Cap
At three years old, my daughter still had awful cradle cap. I wish I would have thought to take a picture, but just imagine: thin, blond hair, the face of a cherub (oh, if only her attitude matched!), and thick, scaly, yellow, dry flakes all on top of her scalp.
I picked at it often and pieces came off easily, but it never seemed to make a difference. A few years ago I had read that applying oil to the scalp in the bathtub would help, and I was able to slough off more scales, but her head was so very greasy, and the cradle cap just came back.
This time, I used a few drops of tea tree oil in a bit of unrefined coconut oil (use the code STEWARDSHIP to get 10% off) , rubbed it all in her hair while she was playing in the tub (really should have taken a picture of that wild ‘do, too, but I never thought I’d be posting on it!) and let it sit about 5 minutes.
This photo happens to have the greasy, pulled-back hair…and a cute baby brother!
I scraped as much cradle cap as I could off in the tub, then washed her hair with shampoo. The shampoo can only do so much with the oil, so she was still pretty greasy afterward. We just pinned her bangs back with barrettes and I told myself it was much better to have a few days of weird greasiness than the rest of her life with yellow scales.
I did the process twice and wanted to complete a third application but kept forgetting at bath time. I managed to get all the scales sloughed off, and guess what!?! It’s been a few weeks, and they haven’t come back. Her scalp is a little dry, but no scales. If it does start to come back, I just feel pretty confident that once or twice more will knock it out.
I must tell you that this is after multiple times asking the pediatrician if she had any ideas for the cradle cap, and “wait it out” was all we came up with. Now I’m excited to share this remedy with her so she can tell other patients!
The Bottom Line
First, I do think it’s important to think about what we put on our babies’ skin.
Second, I’m happy to have products available that are made of safe ingredients and work effectively.
Third, I want you all to learn to watch out for “greenwashing“: those products that say they’re “all natural” but are still filled with unpronouceables. Sometimes brands even make the natural ingredients bold – for me, that’s a sure sign that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be. What about the other ingredients that aren’t bold, you know?
But finally, there are also more frugal options, like coconut oil for diaper cream and maybe diluted castille soap (although I hear it stings the eyes something fierce) for washing. And really, babies don’t need any soap at all. John was 3 weeks before we even gave him his first bath at home (we took hand-to-toe wash to the hospital for them), and I only use soap on his bottom and sometimes his head. You could certainly keep a baby plenty clean with just water (thanks to the readers in the comments for reminding me I was planning to write this part. 😉
And yes…I did just post a photo of my baby’s bottom under “the bottom line.” It would have been better if it was a bare baby’s bottom, but he woke up.