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:
- Graham Gardens bar soap
- MadeOn‘s goat’s milk soap
- Earth Mama Organics’ non-scents castile baby wash [Use code KITCHENSTEWARDSHIP for 20% off regularly priced purchases at Earth Mama until 8/31/20! Excludes travel kits. US orders only.]
- Arbonne’s Baby Care hair & body wash
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:
Graham Gardens has two different formulations for their soap:
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:
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:
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:
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?
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.
44 thoughts on “Avoiding Chemicals for Baby Bottoms and Baths”
You make so many great points here that I read your article a couple of times.
Whatever did parents do with children 150+ years ago before pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals? Oh my!
Hi Katie. Got any updates on a good bubble bath for children?
Phew – sorry I’m so very late in replying; I got way behind on comments when I released the new Healthy Lunch Box book!
Not a clue, wish I could help! Does a natural shampoo not work? I am boring; no bubble baths here. 🙂 Katie
We use the tangerine scented bubble bath made by Little Twig, which we purchased through Mountain Rose Herbs. It smells so good!
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I just have a minor dispute with avoiding “chemicals” with unpronounceable names. What isn’t a chemical? Dihydrogen oxide is water. Sodium chloride is water. I work with some scary-sounding chemicals every day, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put some of them on my skin. Natural isn’t always better. Just consider how toxic “natural” rattlesnake venom is.
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I cloth diapered my son, and fortunately never really had to deal with diaper rash. I would occasionally use Burt’s Bees diaper cream, but it did stain the diapers. There was one time when he did get a rash, and I used some olive oil with a drop of tea tree oil. That cleared the rash up overnight!
You have to be aware of the chemicals and other things that are in most children’s products. I was horrified the other day, when I went into my local pharmacy to get children’s allergy tablets. I explained to the pharmacist that I had gotten the liquid allergy, but needed the tablets because I was giving them to my cat who really didn’t like the liquid. He told me then that the children’s allergy medicine is part alcohol – which was why the cat didn’t like it. I knew that a lot of the adult allergy meds had alcohol in them, but had no idea that the ones for children would have it too… poured that bottle down the drain… just goes to show you always have to read the label… <
FYI: Angel Baby Bottom Balm is available on Diapers.com and may be cheaper through them than other sources are able to provide it.
Hi! Just today my friend emailed me about what soap she uses on her baby! You can buy 32 oz for $7.95 plus shipping!! Here’s the link: http://www.vitacost.com/Dr-Woods-Shea-Vision-Pure-Castile-Soap-Baby-Mild-with-Organic-Shea-Butter
I use and love CJ’s Butter as a diaper rash cream (and I used their yeast spray when my baby had yeast), and I make my own baby wash w/ diluted castille soap. I, too, used Johnson and Johnson’s and Desitin until Baby Girl #2 came along! I feel bad now about what I exposed Baby Girl #1 to!
And we’ll be featuring Erin’s homemade baby wash post next week when we talk natural cleaning solutions for home and body! 🙂 katie
I use coconut oil exclusively on my little baby butts. Both my littles have relatively sensitive skin, so rashes happen often, so I always have c. oil nearby. Even on the worst rashes, it clears up in a day or two. I just can’t imagine putting desitin on anymore. I always hated the smell – so chemical! Anyway, I recommend c. oil on diaper rashes to everyone I know. (BTW, I use c. oil instead of body lotion for myself, as well.)
The only soap I’ve used on Jacob has been Dr. Bronner’s castile soap. Its ingredients read like the ones you mentioned (oils). The only downside to it is that it is NOT tear-free! I used to use it to wash my older kids’ hair but had to stop doing that. Burt’s Bees is pretty good and it is tear-free. Generally Jacob doesn’t get bathed often and only gets water, anyway. Usually doesn’t need more than that!
Plus…the Dr. Bronner’s works for anyone (plus a number of household cleaning purposes) and I got rose-scented (with essential oils). Love it.
Thanks to those who posted about just water on their babies – I’ve been wondering lately why they even need soap! It’s not like they get dirty or anything, at least not with anything that plain water can’t clean off.
And as far as disposables go – I’ve cloth diapered 3 little ones so far, and have yet to find a cloth diapering system that fits the kid before they are about 8 lbs. And the average newborn is less than 8 lbs. So then you’re stuck with disposables. Anyone care to chime in on which brands will fit a 6 lb-er? Would love to be informed.
I haven’t had my baby yet, but will in about 3 and a half weeks. They estimate it will be between 4.5 and 5 pounds. I bought some preemie cloth diapers. They were bummis brand organic prefolds. I got them through babyearth.com. It says they are for babies 4-9 pounds.
Again I have not used them since I am still waiting for my little one, however I have practiced on a stuffed animal 🙂
Aha! I wonder if the preemie prefolds was the part I was missing. I didn’t know Bummies made preemie sizes. I love their covers. Thanks, and I hope all goes well with your little one.
Cory and others, Thanks for the reminder! In my head last month, I was going to talk about just using water. I did, more or less, on John as well. Other than the diaper area, babies don’t get that dirty! 🙂 Katie
I used small prefolds and Thirsties XS covers on my baby from the beginning- the Thirsties covers start at about 6 lbs I believe, and prefolds are very adjustable! It worked great!
Kissaluvs cloth diapers and XS Thirsties rock! Also, preemie size prefolds fit better on newborns than infant size.
I sure wish I’d known this info. when my girls were babies! At least I can now pass it on to others who are having babies. Thank you for such great information!
When my littlest was a baby, I didn’t use soap at all on her – just water. If/when her hair got icky, I used soap, but it was rare. I use Bubble & Bee Organic Fresh Lavender Shower Gel. Only a tiny dab was needed. I use this shower gel on my other kids as well, and for me! One product for all of us is really nice and convenient.
We use Egyptian Magic on baby’s bottom. Never had a diaper rash, plus it’s a great mosterizer for hands. Don’t be put off by the name…ITS AMAZING albeit VERY expensive. Luckily a little goes a very long way. Ingredients:
Olive oil (olea europaea oil), beeswax, honey, pollen, royal jelly and propolis extract.
I also love the Made On Bottom stuff. She messed up my first batch and realized and sent me a new batch out before the first arrived. I love them both.
We use Burt’s bees for soap, mostly because I love the smell and it is not terrible. For bubble bath we use Seventh Gen dish soap, which works great.
Diaper wise, I work for a CD store and love mine. Have you looked for a service in your area. You could have your cloth without using you MIL’s washing machine.
anyone got any ideas for TEAR FREE natural baby soap?? i have resigned to using dr,b’s, just carefully, but i wouldn’t mind a tear free, natural, not uber expensive version if anyone had a suggestion?
also sorry i do have to chime in that i hope you are doing well on your transition to cloth diapers, katie! looks like you are using 7th gen? maybe i am wrong. i dunno, u have used those before, but in my mind they are a “green washed product” in a lot of ways. they are still some 70% petroleum based and they DYE them brown to make them look more natural! silly!! Earth’s Best is a similar petro content. Try Nature Care Baby (designed in Sweden) they are 3/4 biodegradable and the wipes are completely biodegradable- @ amazon mom club/suyscribe they are even better price than 7th gen or EB; or BROODY CHICK for TRULY all natural paper diapers (but with a price tag of $17/pack. Nature Care is like $7.50/pack when you buy a case. We travel a lot and have switched to paper diapers for travel mostly, and we like the nature baby care.
but really i have cloth diapered 2 kids so far and you just gotta take the plunge it is no big deal. a little disposable here and there is understandable, but being 100% disposable i do not get, especially if you are concerned about chemicals and the landfill load not to mention the processing pollution/energy. that just makes no sense to me 🙂
cloth ciapering is easy, you just gotta do it and it is a no brainer! good luck to anyone taking the leap to cloth diapering! you won’t regret it!!
sorry i meant to say the nature babycare are 60% natural/biodegradable. still a big step up from 7th gen/EB and worlds better than pampers, of course!
yes NBC are chlorine free, of course!
unfortunately what makes things like J&J tear free is that they include and anasthetic in the mixture. So it numbs the eyes so they dont’ feel it irritating. 🙁 best suggestion is to stick with what’s natural, so even if it stings a bit it won’t harm them by absorbing through the eye… 🙁
Holy cow, I have been wondering why they can be “tear free” when they have all those chemicals in there. That’s crazy!
A long time ago that used to be true, but this is actually illegal now. Tear free formulas now days (not that I approve of J&J 😉 are tear free because they match the PH chemistry of the eye, so it doesn’t burn. There are natural tear-free products as well, such as Burt’s Bees, Rainbow, and California Baby.
I love coconut oil for babies. It was great to keep the meconium from sticking to their bottoms. It’s great for diaper rash. It’s great for other unexplained baby skin blemishes. It’s great for treating cradle cap. Grease their little heads and comb out and rinse.
We use water for wipes for diaper changes. Sometimes I add colloidal silver to the water.
Washing kids and their hair with water only works really well. I save soap until they are big enough to make mud pies. Then, I like Dr. Bronner’s or Cal Ben.
Cal Ben shampoo is great, too.
Someone gave me some of the Arbonne baby stuff and I never used it since I read the back first. Yuck!
We use both cloth and disposable. There are definitely “better” disposable options like Seventh Generation and Earth’s best. Hypocritical seems like a very harsh judgement. We are all just doing the best we can. Encouragement goes so much farther than criticism.
Dr. Bronners makes a castile soap for babies-it’s liquid that you dilute heavily. I put it in a foaming hand dispenser and it worked great for my son 🙂 I use the lavender scent for my girls (5 and 7). Dr. Bronners is all natural, organic, and gets a rating of 1 on Skin Deep
I’m fond of LuSa Organics soaps and Booty Balm. The ingredients pass my pronounceable test and LuSa is a small family business. When D was tiny I used Dr Bronner’s unscented castille soap on a wash cloth. I always wash faces with plain water.
Me too on the faces, even now for the big kids. 🙂 Katie
What a great resource! thank you for doing this! I’ll be saving this one!
Been using the earth mama stuff for years, though for the soap – i use the baby head to toe – and the smell of that is just FABULOUS IMO… haven’t tried the non-scents one yet cuz i love the original so darned much. 🙂 i switch off some stuff for diapers and rashes (coconut oil, mother love, earth mama etc) but the soap stays consistent. 🙂 love it.
Aha, maybe if I try the scented it will fill that good-smelling-baby head gap. Thanks for sharing! 🙂 Katie
I can’t take anyone seriously who says “it’s important to think about what we put on our babies’ skin” but then profess to being a disposable nappy user earlier on in the post. Disposables are rammed with some quite harsh chemicals and they sit right next to the average baby’s butt most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-disposables. Used them for 6 months with my daughter, gifted new parents with loads etc. Just think this is a tad hypocritical.
If you read her previous post, she does talk about how she will be switching to cloth.
Also I think if you can’t go 100%, then do what you can to be better. It is very difficult to be 100% organic, natural, local, real food, etc. But I don’t think it is hypocritical to start moving in that direction while still not being 100% with everything you do.
Luckily, I’m not always too serious. 😉
The mission of this blog is to help people make baby steps to real food and natural living, and I can only do THAT honestly if I’m a baby stepper myself. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of cloth diapers for years, since my daughter was almost turning one and I couldn’t figure out if it would be fiscally sound to start at that point, not knowing what God had in store for our family size. Now w/no. 3, I’m ready to do it, but being squashed into a house with my in-laws, who I depend on to diaper change sometimes, I didn’t think it fair to impose cloth diapers on them when I’m already afraid of the work myself.
I appreciate the others chiming in for me. We all do what we can, and that just has to be enough. I’m trying to make an effort with 7th Gen, and maybe I’ll try Lizi’s rec. of Nature baby care.
Another great post. I will definitely be doing my research before buying a bunch of products for my new baby. Thanks for doing the research as well and posting about it.
I love the MadeOn bottom cream. It’s going to be 100 here today, so I can’t speak to the ‘hardness’ issue. All redness was cleared up in one application and it did stain my cloth diapers.