A friend once remarked that nothing went into or onto her daughter’s body without going into or onto hers first. I love this strategy. By testing it myself first, I know if he’ll balk at a bitter medication or push away a tart fruit. Since my skin is rather sensitive to soaps, I can try to prevent problems for him, too.

So, for the past two years, I’ve been conducting a totally non-scientific sample-of-one tear-free shampoo testing study. Boy, has that been fun. (Not so much, really.) Who knew it took so much courage to slather one’s eyes with soap and open them? (Me. I know now: lots.)

I’ll note that I limit myself to brands that seem to be natural-ish and without too many chemicals. Some typical baby brands use numbing agents to make the tear-free claim and I’ve tried to avoid those. Though I’m more interested in pain-potential than vanity, I do give bonus points to products that leave my son’s thick, wavy hair shiny and somewhat frizz-free.

My testing strategy started out simple – wash my hair and keep my eyes open while I rinsed the suds over my eyes – and evolved once I realized my husband was far more likely to get the product on my son’s face than I was. Now I put un-sudsed soap on my eyes, then try suds, then try the rinsing step. Following are my findings.

In an ideal situation, we can use one product as a shampoo and body wash, in the bath water as a pre-soak and bubble bath, and (diluted) as a hand soap in the bathroom. Because my toddler now washes his own hands and often doesn’t rinse them completely, it’s important that our hand soap be as tear-free as possible.

Tear-free shampoos that totally aren’t:

1. Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Baby Wash (purchased at Target). Look, in it’s defense, it doesn’t say it’s tear-free, which of course begs the question: why would you make a baby wash that’s not tear-free? At least, that’s what we asked. In fact, our experience with this product is what started this whole shebang. So, no, not tear-free. In fact, get this product in your eyes and they’ll sting for a while no matter how long you rinse them, no matter how much you dilute. Pour some in the bath as a quasi-bubble bath and not only do you not get bubbles, the water will now make your eyes burn. EPIC FAIL.

2. BabyGanics Foaming Body Wash and Shampoo (purchased at Toys R Us). Despite finding a baby shampoo that was tear-free and left my kid’s hair shiny and nice (more on that at the end of this post), I kept buying other brands. Mamas are weird, yes, but we like to have more than one option, especially when that option is rather expensive and can only be found at one store. So, I picked up a bottle of this foaming wash while on a toy run. FAIL. Not only did it burn like the dickens, it left my son’s hair all frizzy and dry. Dry! Blegh. To be fair, it doesn’t burn much when you rinse one pump over your face, but I had to use multiple pumps to get my son’s hair clean. So, if you want tear-free, use one pump and rinse, then repeat. A lot. Over and over. And then use a separate conditioner lest you end up with dry frizzy hair. As an infant. No, thanks!

3. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash – fragrance-free version (purchased via Amazon but also available at Walmart and Target and Walgreens). This was the first product we used on my son’s body after testing it on my husband first. My hubs has very sensitive skin so we figured if he didn’t mind it, the kid would be less likely to have a reaction. It worked! Nobody’s skin broke out, but the shampoo is slick and a bit hard to rinse out – so it can sting because you have to keep rinsing it to get it off. It doesn’t suds well and makes kind of a slimy situation on a baby head and body. The bigger problem is that it separates and smells funny after about a month, probably owing to the lack of fragrance, but it grosses me out. Blegh.

Tear-free shampoos are (kind of):

4. Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Shampoo and Wash – original (purchased via Amazon but also available at Walmart and Target and Walgreens). I love, love, love how Burt’s Bees baby products’ smell. Love. And this shampoo lathers well, rinses easily and only burns if you get the unlathered soap in your eyes – no burning if you’re just rinsing out suds. Unfortunately, my son and I both get itchy spots if we don’t rinse really, really, really well, and with a squirmy baby (and now impatient toddler), we can’t guarantee that. If we’re traveling, though, and forget our own toiletries, this is what we use because it’s so easy to find. I just mix a solution of about 1/4 shampoo and 3/4 water and rinse really, really, really well.

5. Honest Shampoo + Body Wash (purchased via Honest.com). I had such high hopes for this shampoo, thinking I could buy one product for my son and myself and never have to go to Target again. (Target is my budgeting nemesis. Even if I leave with only what I planned on, I’m haunted by the things I left behind.) The shampoo smells a little sweet but doesn’t leave fragrance behind in your hair and has a neat-o push-up bottle top. (It’s the little things.) But… BUT! Well, I’ll share a story. My husband was showering with my son when I heard a loud yell from both dudes and then crying and something hit the floor and more crying. I rushed in, fearing my son had fallen, to discover that the shampoo was NOT tear-free, my son’s eyes were stinging so he was crying, and my husband was angry so he’d thrown the shampoo bottle to the ground.

And thus was born the three-part testing (soap, suds, rinsing). I found it hard to believe that this wasn’t tear-free somehow, so I first put the soap directly into my eyes (holy stinging, Batman), then tried just the suds (still stung but stopped pretty quickly when I rinsed my eyes), and finally just kept my eyes open while I rinsed light suds (no pain). Perhaps this is how Honest did its own testing?

Epilogue: we’ve since diluted the shampoo into a different dispenser to use on my son and it’s working well at a 1/20-ish ratio.  Wow, this stuff is concentrated. At that dilution, it still washes effectively but rinses easily and doesn’t sting at all unless you squirt it directly into your eyes. (Don’t ask how I know). My son’s hair is nice and shiny and frizz-free and we can both use the same product, so we’ll call this a (modified) win.

The one tear-free shampoo we’ve tried that is tear-free:

6.  California Baby Super Sensitive Shampoo & Bodywash (purchased at Target and only at Target). We love this shampoo. I can use it to wash my make-up off and keep my eyes open while scrubbing off eye make-up. It leaves my kid’s hair shiny and happy. We squirt some into his bath to help soak off the dirt and gunk he somehow accumulates in a single 24-hour period. We mix it 1:1 and use it as hand soap.

Really the only downsides are cost (about $20 for 19 ounces) and that we can only buy it at Target… which is my most and least favorite place.  A third potential con is that the company seems to have recently reformulated some of their products, a few of which now contain sodium benzoate, which means I’ll need to buy more soon and subject my poor eyes to a retest. Sigh.

.  .  .  .  .

For now, we’re using diluted Honest Shampoo in the bath and what’s left of our diluted California Baby Sensitive for hand-washing. I’ll keep putting new products in my eyes before putting them on my son and my eyes will keep dreading the day I have to replenish our hand soap.

Have you found truly tear-free baby products?