Baby Shampoo vs Regular Adult Shampoo: Is There a Real Difference?

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Your first time giving baby a bath is quite a nerve-wracking experience.

You’ll be worried about the temperature of the water, crying, pooping, and of course, getting shampoo in their eyes!

You’ll undoubtedly wonder if you chose the right shampoo, if it’s gentle enough, if it’s good enough to get them clean.

What’s the deal with baby and infant shampoo anyway? What’s the difference between baby shampoo vs regular adult shampoo?

The difference in ingredients between adult and baby shampoos varies widely depending on the brand and type of soap you buy, but in general, baby shampoo has fewer ingredients (especially when it comes to colors and fragrances) and uses less aggressive cleaning agents. Baby shampoo also strives for a more neutral pH level to avoid stinging baby’s eyes.

Let’s learn more about the differences between baby vs adult shampoo and whether the two are interchangeable!

Adult Shampoo Explained

Let’s start with regular adult shampoo.

It’s a little tough to generalize because there are so many different kinds of shampoo out there depending on what you need, including:

  • Dandruff shampoo
  • Color-preserving shampoo
  • Dry or oily scalp shampoo
  • Shampoo/conditioner combos
  • Curl enhancing shampoo
  • And on and on and on

The ingredients in regular adult shampoo will vary widely depending on the brand, the purpose, and the budget.

For example, it’s common now for consumers and companies alike to avoid an overabundance of harsh chemical, including things like phthalates (a chemical that cleans and extends the durability of shampoo) and parabens (a preservative).

More “natural” shampoos are all the rage!

Still, it takes a lot of ingredients to make a good shampoo. As an example, here is the full ingredient list in a basic Dove adult moisturizing shampoo:

Water (Aqua), Sodium C12-13 Pareth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethiconol, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Glycerin, Glycol Distearate, Carbomer, Gluconolactone, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, PPG-9, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Cocamide MEA, Sodium Sulfate, Trehalose, Disodium EDTA, PEG-45M, Arginine, Lysine HCl, Benzyl Salicylate, Citronellol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool, Mica (CI 77019), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

That looks like a lot of mumbo jumbo! So let’s translate.

Basically, without breaking down every individual ingredient, you’ll find these types of things in an adult shampoo:

  • Surfactants: Chemicals that create a lather and strip away grease/dirt/grime, the main cleaning agents
  • Preservatives
  • Colorizers
  • Fragrances
  • Thickening and viscosity agents

Most of what’s in there falls into one of these categories.

Baby Shampoo Explained

So when it comes to lathering soap onto our baby’s hair and body, there are a couple of concerns:

First up, their sensitive skin. Newborns especially have extremely sensitive skin that’s prone to irritation. Plus, you may not know your baby’s individual triggers or allergens yet, so it’s best to play it safe with minimal ingredients.

Next is the eyes. We all do our best to avoid getting shampoo in baby’s eyes, but it’s difficult, and an accident is bound to happen eventually. You don’t want extremely harsh soap stinging your poor baby and potentially hurting their eyes!

So while baby shampoos still often have long ingredient lists, they generally contain fewer chemicals and they make a few key substitutions.

As a comparable example, here are the full ingredients in basic Dove baby shampoo:

Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate, Polyacrylate-33, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, Stearic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Fragrance (Parfum), Dimethiconol, Lauric Acid, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Sodium Palmitate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Isethionate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Citric Acid, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891).

OK, I know. It still just looks like a bunch of gobble-dee-gook.

So let’s break it down and examine what makes baby shampoo different.

Adult vs Baby Shampoo Ingredients Explained

You could go out and get a chemistry degree to compare these two ingredient lists.

Or we could just sum up the main differences.

Shall we?

Baby shampoo has a more neutral pH

Adult shampoo is far more acidic, while baby shampoo tries to remain as neutral as possible. This is primarily to avoid stinging the eyes, but is also easier on sensitive baby skin.

Baby shampoo is more diluted and watered-down

Again, a smaller concentration of chemicals and ingredients protects the skin and eyes.

Baby shampoo has fewer and less aggressive surfactants

Shampoo contains many, many different surfactants: these are the primary cleaning agents that foam and lather to strip away grease and dirt.

Both regular shampoo and baby shampoo contain surfactants, but baby shampoo will have fewer and they will generally be more gentle.

As a byproduct, that means baby shampoo usually doesn’t offer as strong or deep of a clean. It’s not as good at getting grease and oils out of hair.

BUT, it is extremely gentle and doesn’t strip away natural oils, so it leaves baby’s hair incredibly soft and smooth.

Baby shampoo generally contains less, if any, colors and fragrances

We adults love our shampoo to smell and look a certain way.

For babies, coloring agents and fragrances are just another irritation or allergen risk, so generally you’ll see fewer of these ingredients in infant soap.

Wrapping Up

So now that we’ve covered the main differences between baby and adults shampoos, a few questions remain.

Can you use baby shampoo as an adult? Absolutely! It works and is extremely gentle, plus it’ll leave your hair baby soft. Just be aware that it may not clean as well as the adult shampoos you’re used to.

Can you use adult shampoo on a baby? I wouldn’t recommend it. You run the risk of irritating baby’s skin and eyes. At the very least, I wouldn’t use any generic store bought regular shampoo, but something specifically formulated to be gentle and more natural might work.

Still, your best bet in this area, even if it costs a little more, is to use soaps specifically formulated for baby.

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Hope this helps!