But I like baby shampoo!
October 29, 2011 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Is baby shampoo really bad for adult hair?

I have fairly fine hair. If I use normal shampoos they end up looking like a glossy but limp curtain. I hate that. Years ago a hairstylist told me to look for shampoos without panthenol (something about silicone?). I did and discovered baby shampoos.

I love them! They make my hair more tangly when wet, but also kind of fluffy and light.

But now other hairstylists told me that baby shampoo is bad for adults, either because it lacks necessary nutrients or because it makes hair greasier than necessary.

My questions:
- do I need to shop for a different shampoo,
- if so what should I look for on the ingredients list?
posted by Omnomnom to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (36 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you like the results you get with baby shampoo, you should continue to use it. Were these other hairstylists you saw possibly trying to upsell you on products their salon stocks? Because if I had a dollar for every time a hairstylist told me that [product I was using] would be bad for my hair, and that I should consider using [five billion dollar an ounce product they stock] in order for it to do what I want it to, I could probably afford the fancy five billion dollar an ounce product. (I finally found someone who won't hawk the products to me, and she rocks.)

Just keep using the baby shampoo. (You're using conditioner, right? That'll make your tangling situation much better.)
posted by phunniemee at 8:52 AM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: the idea that baby shampoo "lacks necessary nutrients" seems wrong to me. As far as I know you do not get "nutrients" for you hair through shampoo- nutrients come from diet.

Also, there are many people who give up shampoo and find that their hair eventually looks better and healthier so I am suspicious that shampoo is necessary at all. I have also read that it strips the hair of necessary oils.

Therefore you might like baby shampoo because it is simpler and maybe better for your hair.
posted by bearette at 8:57 AM on October 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

Your hair is dead - at least the part you wash and style. It doesn't need "nutrients." I have very fine, limp hair with no body and I also love baby shampoo - it gives me light, fluffy hair that's not weighted down. If it works for you, I vote keep using it! Like bearette says, the nutrients you need to grow strong, healthy hair come from a balanced diet, not from shampoo.
posted by pecanpies at 9:03 AM on October 29, 2011 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: You're using conditioner, right? That'll make your tangling situation much better.

To be honest, I don't. I tend to wash and then forget about my hair (I don't even blow dry). The tangling is not a problem as I have fairly short hair now. Do I have to use conditioner? (I really don't like putting stuff in my hair!)
posted by Omnomnom at 9:06 AM on October 29, 2011

Do I have to use conditioner?

Of course not. If you're happy enough without it, go for it. I know that if I don't use conditioner, my (short) hair both feels like straw and turns into a rat's nest. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2011

I don't use shampoo. I use conditioner because my hair gets super dry and would look like a frizz ball without it. But yeah, you don't *have* to do anything with your hair. it's just about what it looks like.
posted by sweetkid at 9:17 AM on October 29, 2011

"Because if I had a dollar for every time a hairstylist told me that [product I was using] would be bad for my hair..."

I of course never fell for this either and just used bar soap on my hair. A few years ago I moved and got a new $8-a-cut hair-cutter and, as she started to cut my hair, she said "What in heck are you using on your hair? Whatever it is, use something else."

She didn't try to upsell me but I learned that someone who has experience with this whole hair care thing can easily discern when a person's hair has seen poor "products."

I switched to a pony-keg sized pumper of Costco shampoo and all was well at the next cutting.

So, I am convinced that there is at least some kernel of truth to using a decent shampoo.
posted by bz at 9:18 AM on October 29, 2011

Best answer: I'm not even sure why people wash their hair with shampoo - it just takes all of the oil out that gives hair its luster, can dry out your scalp, and you just need to use conditioner to do what the natural oils are supposed to do.

I use shampoo once a week, as most shampoos, including baby shampoo, irritate my scalp. To "wash" my hair, I wash it with warm water during my daily shower. As a result, my dandruff disappears, and my hair is easier to style.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:24 AM on October 29, 2011

Response by poster: Hmm, well I might try a shampoo-less fortnight and see what happens. Thanks for all the great input, and I'll definitely stick to baby shampoo if I do keep using shampoo.
posted by Omnomnom at 9:29 AM on October 29, 2011

Do I have to use conditioner?

FWIW, I only use a bit of conditioner on the ends - helps tame the inevitable split ends you get between cuts without weighing hair down at the roots.
posted by pecanpies at 9:35 AM on October 29, 2011

Best answer: People with oily hair definitely need to wash their hair at least once a day, and sometimes twice. It's true that you can provoke worse oil production with harsh products, but you can't actually cause an oily hair type that way.

Going shampooless can work for people who have certain hair types and no scalp problems, but the timescale is in months, not weeks. And oily-haired people most definitely will never be able to achieve self-cleaning hair.

A number of years ago it became commonplace to add proteins and silicones to shampoo, and it filtered down from salon-only brands to el cheapo supermarket shampoos. Since those ingredients provoke acne, I had to go on an odyssey to find a shampoo that wouldn't give me bad acne on my scalp.

I see your reasoning about Johnson's baby shampoo, however, its priority is that it won't burn if it gets in your eyes. The tradeoff is that it totally roughs up the cuticle of your hair. So, to answer your question, no it is not good for adult hair.

Other shampoos that contain no proteins or silicones are T-Gel treatment shampoo, and Alphosyl 2-in-1. With T-Gel I had hair like electric straw, and still some acne on my scalp. With Alphosyl I have absolutely zero acne on my scalp, and a comparatively smooth finish on my hair. I use conditioner on the ends too, because I live in a hard-water area.
posted by tel3path at 9:39 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just a note too if you do want to condition you can get simple spray in ones, I have very thick hair and use them all the time on dry hair to brush through tangles (and control frizz) so it might help you with the tangling after washing.

Other than that what everyone else said.
posted by wwax at 9:40 AM on October 29, 2011

Spray-in conditioners always contain a lot of silicone and are likely to get on your scalp and your face. I've also always had the "oily curtain" effect with them myself. YMMV, if you're careful to keep them strictly on the ends.
posted by tel3path at 9:43 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're happy with your hair now then don't fuck with your routine.
posted by anaelith at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2011 [8 favorites]

One of the times I really love being a chemist with a background in the personal products industry is when hairstylists try to sell me expensive shampoo. Read the ingredients and find ingredients that work for you. (This doesn't necessarily mean expensive. All shampoos are mostly the same stuff. You're paying for brand.) I use sulfate-free shampoo because the SLS is a little too drying for my hair. (But I have the opposite hair you do, it's long, thick, and wavy.) If it works for you, it works.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:56 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ha! tel3paths comment proves it what works for one person might not work for another, so if what you are doing is working for you just keep on doing it.
posted by wwax at 10:00 AM on October 29, 2011

Loreal's new sulfate free line is amazing. My scalp feels so much better, NO ACNE.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I like what I'm doing, I just don't want to cause problems further down the line.

Tel3path, what do silicone and proteins translate to on the list of ingredients? I live in the EU and can't get all US products in department stores.

Green eyed monster, without your background I find it daunting to decypher the list of ingredients!
posted by Omnomnom at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2011

Shampoo does not ever "make hair greasier," it only has some varying strength of soapiness. Baby shampoo is on the weaker side, akin to shampoos for dry hair, with something like, I dunno, Prell or Tea Tree Oil shampoos on the strong side.
posted by rhizome at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2011

Best answer: Hair is dead. Conditioning agents can make it feel smoother, less crunchy and easier to style, but your hair doesn't necessarily 'need' these things. If you're not damaging your hair with colour, heat and just plain old over handling it there's probably nothing wrong with using baby shampoo.

One caveat - styling products and conditioners can build up on your hair over time, and the super gentle detergents in baby shampoo aren't strong enough to remove this. Build up can make your hair feel crunchy, oily and weird.

There's a real trend now to stop washing hair, avoid sulphates and silicones, or to wash hair with things like conditioner, which can work for some people. I know people with curly hair and sensitivities find these alternative methods to be a godsend. But everyone's hair is different. For instance, my hair is nearly waist length, coloured and incredibly dry, and it tangles like a motherf*cker if I try to quit silicone. The thought of not using conditioner makes me cringe. But if you like your hair when you use baby shampoo, use baby shampoo!
posted by nerdfish at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2011

Best answer: It sounds like you have been using baby shampoo for years already with no problems. Your hair is constantly growing out, so I can't possibly see how you could have problems even further down the line, unless, say, the very ends of your hair (that have had this baby shampoo used on them the whole time) seem unusually [something not good, like damaged or unhealthy.] And I can't really imagine that happening from baby shampoo to begin with.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:30 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The ingredients, if not listed straight-up as protein or silicone, will be called quaternium or polyquaternium. Conditioners with these included should be fine as long as you don't get them near your scalp or face.

Agreed that if you are not seeing any supposed bad effects from baby shampoo, there's no need to change. But if you ever do want to change, T-Gel and Alphosyl are on my "known good" list for your future reference.
posted by tel3path at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Kind of funny, but I had a some stylist once actually tell me to use baby shampoo.
posted by General Malaise at 11:05 AM on October 29, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you, I feel much better informed now!
posted by Omnomnom at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2011

... as long as you don't get them near your scalp ...

Please describe how to apply conditioner to my hair without getting it near my scalp.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2011

Grow your hair really long and only use it on the ends!

Not getting conditioner on your scalp doesn't work for those of us with short hair, of course.

I've been using the same Whole Foods house-brand shampoo for years, and every time I go to get may hair cut (every 6-8 weeks), my hair guy says "Your hair is doing great, whatever you're doing, keep doing it." So, yeah - if your hair isn't getting a weird texture, and your scalp isn't irritated, then keep using the baby shampoo.
posted by rtha at 12:03 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

tel3path: Are you sure about polyquaternium? According to Wikipedia, polyquaterniums are neither protein nor silicone, but polycationic polymers. It does say Quaternium-15 can cause contact dermatitis though.
posted by Hither at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the first 26 years of my life, I had fine hair so oily I HAD to wash it every day. When I started washing it with a few spoonfuls of baking soda diluted in two cups of water, then following it with the juice of one lemon diluted in the same amount of water, I can suddenly go four days without washing my hair. It's much softer than it was, and has much more volume, and it does not break or get split ends like it used to. Conventional shampoo will ruin your hair and make you reliant on more products to cover the symptoms; before I switched, I had to use shampoo on my roots, conditioner on my ends, and then a volumizing spray, and it only sort of helped. I have been using baking soda and lemon rinses for nearly a year now, and it only took a week to adjust (mostly figuring out how much of each to use).

Baby shampoo, if you must use shampoo, is FAR better for your hair because it's less harsh and doesn't contain a lot of gunk. Stylists want to sell you products, and when they're not willfully misleading you (I don't think most are) they're going on what they've been taught or experience, but most people use shampoo and they use shampoo at salons, so they aren't going to get much contrary experience. The idea that hair gets nutrients from shampoo is laughable and I would be surprised if something like that is even taught to stylists, so that really just sounds like someone who thinks shampoo is important in some vague way. I wouldn't trust that person for actual scientific facts, even if they mean well.

If you look at photographs of people before shampoo existed, their hair looks great. If baby shampoo works for you, keep using it.
posted by Nattie at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you look at photographs of people before shampoo existed, their hair looks great.

Dude, shampoo's been around (as in, a saleable product, not just the idea of washing your hair) since at least the early 1800s. Not sure what photos you're looking at...
posted by phunniemee at 2:37 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Dimethicone," "cyclomethicone," (and apparently "botanisil") listed in ingredients are silicone.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:22 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not shampoo as we know it today; the harsh synthetic detergents weren't introduced until the 1920s or 30s. Before that, there wasn't much difference between shampoo and liquid soap -- which is what baby shampoo is closer to, some brands more than others. What we call shampoo today is assumed to have the synthetic detergents unless labeled otherwise. I used to make soap and there is a big difference in the oil-stripping abilities of natural soap versus the detergents we have now. Shampoo was also not as widely used as it is now. When you look at pictures of people before 1920 or so, they were using either what we'd today call liquid soap or baby shampoo at worst, or nothing at all, or something else (oils, powders, etc) that are very much nowhere in the class of today's shampoos.

Also, I'm pretty sure that before the middle of the 1800s, "shampoo" didn't involve soap at all, but was more like a pomade. The word's definition has changed a lot since then, so even if you read about "shampoo" in old novels, for example, they are not referring to putting soap in one's hair, but other substances.
posted by Nattie at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

is this the right time to ask about Wen? what is this process? has anyone here tried it? does it work?
it's promoted as a non-shampoo shampoo
posted by seawallrunner at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2011

In the US, they make detangling baby shampoo. Really cheap conditioner seems to weigh hair down less with silicones, oils or waxes; it just helps untangle it. Brushing hair before shampooing helps, too.
posted by theora55 at 8:47 AM on October 30, 2011

Wen works for a lot of people but not for me. If you'd like to try it, there's a cheaper version at Sally's called Hair One.

My hair just gets too greasy from using Wen (any flavor) for any length of time. The length looks and feels better, but my scalp needs shampoo.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:07 AM on October 31, 2011

If you like the idea of a more natural shampoo (everyone), check out the Shampoo Bars from JR Liggett.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:08 AM on October 31, 2011

As others have said above, your hair is dead, so what is "good" and "bad" for it is all relative. If you like the way your hair looks and feels with baby shampoo, keep using it.

Now the scalp is a different story but you didn't mention scalp issues.
posted by radioamy at 7:50 AM on October 31, 2011

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