It is common belief that a baby shampoo should be safe and mild. In fact many adults use them as well when they suffer from some form of dermatitis. However not all baby shampoos are created equal. Many (if not most) contain this one ingredient that could contribute to allergic responses: cocoamidopropyl betaine (CAPB).
What is CAPB?
Cocoamidopropyl betaine is an amphoteric surfactant: it has both negative and positive charges. This surfactant is mild and is often used as a co-surfactant to boost foam density and lather in a sulfate free surfactant system. It is compatible with most of the other ionic surfactants making it a great addition in formulation.
Why is it said to be irritating?
The surfactant itself is not the issue. Instead, it’s the contaminants left behind from the synthesis of Cocoamidopropyl betaine. CAPB is obtained from the reaction of coconut oil with the reagent dimethylaminopropylamine. After purification of CAPB, there are still some very low levels(<15 ppm) of dimethylaminopropyl amine left as well as impurities such as amidoamine. These amines have been found to cause allergic contact dermatitis in some individuals. Itchiness, redness, or scaling are signs of the allergic response. This ingredient received the designation of Allergen of the Year in 2004 from the American Contact Dermatitis Society.
Should I avoid baby shampoo containing CAPB?
Baby skin is tender and more easily irritated. However, most babies do not get affected by CAPB because it is a mild surfactant. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to say that all products with CAPB should be avoided, especially if your favorite brand is working well. However, one should bear in mind that the possibility of the allergy exists. This is similar to when you try peanuts for the first time, you should be wary of any after effects.
Many brands claiming to make plant-based baby products will list cocoamidopropyl betaine as “coco-betaine” in the ingredient list.
Examples of baby shampoos with CAPB
- Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo & Wash
- Johnson’s tear free baby shampoo
- Nature’s Baby Organics Shampoo & Body Wash, Vanilla Tangerine
- Cetaphil Baby Wash and Shampoo with Organic Calendula
- Aveeno Baby Wash and Shampoo with Natural Oat Extract
Examples of baby shampoos without CAPB
- Puracy natural baby shampoo & body
- Carina Organics baby shampoo & wash
- Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Non-Scents Body Wash & Shampoo
- Attitude Little Ones 3 in 1 Shampoo Body Wash Conditioner
- CARA B Naturally Shampoo Body Wash for Baby and Child
Final note to remember
Many shampoos contain a variety of other allergens that can cause irritations: oils such as lavender, fragrances, preservatives, ionic surfactants, etc. Getting to the bottom of what is really causing the dermatitis problem is not that straightforward. But knowing what the allergens are, can help you narrow down the list to the culprit.