How To Care For Baby Hair: Natural Baby Shampoo Explained

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Some babies come into the world with a thick full head of hair, and others do not. With some babies there is almost immediate shedding, and in other cases the birth hair manages to stick around longer. Regardless of length, thickness, or color, the question many parents have is “how do I maintain my baby’s hair?” One way to take care of your baby’s hair is by using a designated shampoo.

There is seemingly an endless number of brands and products geared towards baby hair care, with more joining the ranks every month, and as a result it can be a difficult thing to approach. A baby’s scalp is a lot more sensitive; whatever path you choose, you need to make sure that what you buy or make yourself is properly formulated.

As time goes by, perhaps you will find that your baby’s scalp and hair responds well to certain ingredients, but not as well to others. This will allow you to tailor your store-bought hair care products or DIY concoctions in a way which will suit baby’s developing body, and yield gratifying results. The key phrase you want to keep in mind is: clean and healthy. That is the essence of hair care, be it for babies or adults.

Newborn Hair Loss Explained

Close up of baby feet.

Newborn baby feet.

Baby hair loss is a natural phenomenon that usually occurs within the first few months of a newborn’s life. The hair which the baby was born with is shed, and new growth replaces it. Sometimes this happens simultaneously, and sometimes your baby is bald for a while, as the new growth slowly comes in.

There is no definitive cause for newborn hair loss, but it is considered a reaction to birth and is often associated with one of the following:

  • Baby’s body getting used to the world outside the uterus
  • Intense friction from lying down in beds, cribs, playpens, bouncers, etc.
  • Cradle cap 

Less common causes are ringworm, alopecia areata, and other medical conditions. If the hair loss continues after 6 months, consult with your baby’s doctor. At the end of the day, the main thing to remember is that some hair loss isn’t alarming when it comes to newborns. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s a part-and-parcel of newborn life, but to a certain extent, the hair that you’re born with isn’t necessarily your hair for long! Nevertheless, some conditions are more concerning than others, so it’s important to know what to look out for. 

How To Wash Newborn Hair

Whether you’re washing newly grown hair or grooming the baby’s initial “birth hair”, the routine is basically the same. Wash your newborn’s scalp and hair with a delicate tear-free shampoo. Massage it into the scalp gently. Use warm – but not hot – water, to rinse it out after a minute. Don’t massage too hard or use too much shampoo. There is no need to wash the baby’s hair every day.

Avoid any hair care products made for adults. Some baby products are a sham, but shampoos are not one of them. The baby’s scalp and hair are both very sensitive, and using products with the right ingredients is paramount. You don’t want to overwhelm and overstimulate your newborn’s scalp. Whenever possible, just keep it clean and let the body progress naturally.

As easy as it may sound, washing a newborn’s hair can prove to be a difficult task. This is especially true for first-time parents. Don’t be afraid to advance at a slow pace, as you get used to the routine of bathing your baby and washing the hair with warm water. Shampooing can come into the picture at any time, but don’t feel pressured by anyone to do it a certain way. Just keep it out of the kid’s eyes, and things will turn out okay.

Baby Hair Care Products

Baby with blanket on head.

Baby after a bath.

As mentioned, some baby products are actually highly beneficial, and sometimes necessary. Many of the adult products we take for granted would spell certain doom for a baby’s early (and developing) scalp and hair. Some products are for ordinary everyday use, and others are better used as a reactive treatment to hair-and scalp-related conditions.

The bare essentials for baby hair care are two: a proper shampoo and a baby hairbrush. Those products form a powerful duo, and they can help your baby sail across that first year and beyond. Some parents also use conditioners and moisturizers, but these are not always necessary. It depends on the situation.

Different products are made for conditions that your baby may have to contend with, but overall the rule is “less is more”. The less you fuss with your baby’s scalp and hair, the healthier it will be. Overdoing anything with baby hair care products is usually a bad idea.

Many companies will try to sell you everything but the kitchen sink, claiming it’s essential. It isn’t, usually. Unless there is a specific condition which requires the use of special hair care products, you can use a run-of-the-mill baby shampoo or alternatively use an all-natural one. Ultimately, we’re talking about a tiny human, and its scalp and hair have ways of regulating its own health, on top of whatever you’re using.

What Is Cradle Cap?

Baby in the sink having a bath.

Baby having a bath.

“Cradle cap“ is a natural and common inflammatory condition. It affects a significant number of babies, usually within the first few months of their lives. It is the infantile version of the common skin condition known as seborrhoeic dermatitis. This affects a high percentage of the adult population at some point in life. Cradle cap usually manifests as scaly or dry areas specifically on the baby’s scalp, while ordinary seborrhoeic dermatitis affects other areas too.

These patches of dry or oily scaly skin are not known to itch or cause pain, but they can be difficult to remove. Many times the condition will go away on its own, without any intervention. Although the white or yellow scales can be tough to handle, this is not an allergic reaction, it’s not contagious, it does not pose a danger to the baby or those around the baby, and it is not brought on by poor hygiene or bacteria. For some babies, it’s simply the luck of the genetic draw.

It’s never a pleasant sight, especially in the more severe cases. But it is an ordinary and usually temporary condition – this is, unless a physician has reason to suspect that it is the result of some other condition or complication.  

Cradle Cap Causes

The precise causes of cradle cap are unknown, and are a point of some disagreement. Medical professionals have hypothesized that it has to do either with overactive sebaceous (sebum-producing) glands, or a fungal infection. These are the very same catalysts which later cause dandruff in adult scalps, so that is a sound argument. The glands could be acting up due to the mother’s hormones still being present in the baby’s body some months after delivery.

There are those who associate cradle cap with immune disorders or (eventual) bacterial growth. If the scalp’s scaly condition coincides with other symptoms, or if the scales spread to other areas of the body, or if the condition worsens noticeably and breaks the skin – it is best to consult with a medical professional and rule out other things before taking further action. 

Possible causes aside, the numbers don’t lie. About 70% of babies develop some degree of scalp irritation by the time they reach 3 months of age, and in most cases, it goes away by itself. But while the baby’s body is contending with the harmless irritation, parents are often wondering what there is to do about it, and how to treat it.

Cradle Cap Baby Shampoo

Babies love baths!

Baby having a bath.

There is no definitive treatment for cradle cap, but there are ways to ease the symptoms and prevent them from continuing for a longer period of time. Shampooing more often can help in some cases, but do not exceed one shampoo session per day. Carrier oils can be used to loosen the scales, but even so, they can be difficult to remove.

Baby shampoo for cradle cap is more about prevention and maintenance since the condition itself goes away on its own after some time. If the cradle cap is accompanied by other symptoms or is brought on by a separate condition, it is up to the dermatologist or pediatrician to diagnose and prescribe the proper treatment.

When considering a cradle cap baby shampoo, go for one which is gentle and effective. You want a shampoo that is not laden with detergents or fragrances. Different commercial baby shampoos live up to these criteria, and then it is just a question of personal preference and price. Alternatively, you can make your own DIY shampoo for your baby. Massage the shampoo into the scalp and be sure, as always, to avoid contact with the eyes, etc. As mild as these shampoos are, they could still burn or sting.

Baby Dandruff Shampoo Explained

Dandruff can be seen as a milder case of cradle cap, only it’s less scales and more flakes. In other words, the dead skin is already being shed, but it sticks around. There is no definitive treatment for dandruff, but there are ways of mitigating it and preventing a prolonged experience.

A baby dandruff shampoo can be the very same one which targets cradle cap, because the mode of operation is the same: cleanse and protect. Unless directed otherwise by a physician, a shampoo which is good for one condition will also be good for the other.

Using a gentle and cleansing shampoo, one which does not possess any unnecessary chemicals or fragrances, should be enough to clear the scalp from dandruff and prevent the flaking from continuing. Shampoo as needed, but no more than once a day. The shampoo doesn’t have to say “baby dandruff shampoo” on the label. Some parents opt for shampoos that are more natural or DIY, and others go with supermarket-aisle or drugstore brands.

Baby Shampoo Ingredients Breakdown

A baby shampoo is formulated for babies, which means it does not contain the same detergents as adult shampoos do. The ingredients in a baby shampoo should ideally be able to produce the same results, namely cleaning the scalp and preventing buildup, without causing irritation.

Instead of sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and other common cleansers, baby shampoos will often make use of milder compounds which will not harm the skin or the eyes. Because a baby’s scalp is usually cleaner than an adult’s scalp, baby shampoos can afford to take things down a notch. Babies don’t style or manipulate their hair in any way, nor do they engage in demanding physical activities which cause them to sweat. Their scalp will have less buildup and debris in general. This means that a mild shampoo will often be enough to keep it clean and healthy.

There are baby products that are more natural than others. Using plant-based oils can be a great advantage, and it is recommended to avoid any dyes, fragrances, parabens, and potentially-harmful sulfates. Ideally, your baby’s shampoo should contain the bare minimum and nothing else. It may not lather up as well as your adult shampoo. The truth is that this hardly matters as long as the main job is done.

Tear Free Shampoo Defined

Baby with towel on head.

Baby after a bath.

A tear-free shampoo is defined as one which does not sting or burn when coming into contact with the eyes. Different chemicals and fragrances, even all-natural ones based strictly on plants, can cause irritation when they get into the eyes. “Natural” does not automatically mean tear-free. So, you want to make sure that the label clearly states it or alternatively that the ingredients are known to you to be safe and non-irritating.

The ingredients which tear-free shampoos use are often ones that have more difficulty penetrating the skin. The compounds which make up the shampoo don’t get into the eyes as easily, and are used in the formula for that reason. It’s not impossible, it’s just more difficult. A baby’s blink reflex is not as developed as an adult’s. Therefore, a tear-free shampoo manages to prevent some of the discomfort that comes along with getting product in your eyes.

Note that the promise or claim of “no more tears” is not meant to be taken as a 100% absolute guarantee. Even the most natural soap-like substances will irritate the skin and eyes if misused. The point is to feel free to wash your baby’s scalp and hair, without having to worry too much about product run-off sliding down from the forehead onto the face. But if you get enough of that stuff in your eye, it will most definitely be uncomfortable. This is true for adults and babies alike, even in the case of baby-safe shampoo.

Conclusion 

Normally, a baby’s scalp and hair is not very high maintenance, unless some medical condition or exception is involved. As long as you clean the hair and scalp every two or three days or so, all should be well with your little one’s locks. They may fall off and return, they may be flaky, they could appear drier or greasier (depending on the situation), but overall they can be taken care of with a shampoo formulated for babies.

As I said, the rule of thumb is “less is more”. The less products you use, the less manipulation you employ, the less you fuss over baby’s hair – the happier and healthier the hair will be. Likewise, it is usually better to opt for a shampoo with less ingredients than one with more. Some of those could be unnecessary, others downright uncomfortable. Babies have skin that is more sensitive, so it’s best to not overwhelm it.

Natural hair care for babies can be much more attainable and sustainable than for adults. Adults often require (and expect) all kinds of bells and whistles, and these are things which babies usually don’t need. Mild ingredients, plant-based extracts, reduced amounts, and gentle application – these are basically all you need to keep your baby’s head safe and sound.

A natural baby shampoo is one way to ensure – to the degree that one can ensure such a thing – that your kiddo is being treated with the most gentle ways and means. If you find a good shampoo, consider finding out if there is a DIY version. Even though convenience is worth a lot of money, there are times when you want to go the DIY route. It can end up being cheaper and much more personal.

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