Help! I Got Soap in My Baby’s Eye! (Is Rinsing It with Water Enough?)

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We’re all familiar with the stinging, burning pain of getting soap in our eyes. Though not a rare occurrence, this can be distressing; especially when it’s your baby that is in pain. What do you do if you get soap in your baby’s eyes?

Getting soap in your baby’s eyes is unlikely to result in severe injury; however, it can cause a great deal of irritation resulting in watery eyes and redness. Quickly removing the soap with a clean damp washcloth or stream of water will help relieve the pain and reduce adverse effects. If you’re very concerned, try using a mild tear-free shampoo.

Keep reading to learn more about what to do if you get soap in your baby’s eyes, which soaps are best for your little one, and what ingredients to avoid.

What to do if baby gets soap in eyes

Getting soap or shampoo in your baby’s eyes can be worrisome. No one wants to see their baby in discomfort; however, it’s no cause for panic. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, soap will not cause serious eye damage.

Though soap isn’t a major threat, it can cause a great deal of irritation. If you get soap or shampoo in your baby’s eyes, here are some symptoms your baby may exhibit:

  • Burning to the eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Watery eyes
  • Red eyes or redness surrounding the eyes

Understandably uncomfortable, your baby may instinctively rub their eyes. Avoid allowing this as it may spread the soap throughout and deeper into the eye. Crying or eye-watering is normal and will help clear the eyes of soap; however, do not wait for the soap to naturally work its way out. Actively treat your baby’s eyes to minimize irritation and potential injury.

To get the soap out of your baby’s eyes:

  1. Wet a clean washcloth with warm water. 
  2. Gently wipe your baby’s eyes until their discomfort has subsided. 
  3. If your baby remains distressed, flush their eyes with a clean stream of lukewarm water for up to 20 minutes.
  4. Contact your pediatrician or ophthalmologist if your baby’s symptoms don’t improve or if they worsen.

Is it dangerous to get soap in baby’s eyes?

Though they can cause significant irritation, most soaps and shampoos are formulated to be safe for eyes in moderation. 

Soaps are salts of fatty acids that act as surfactants and emulsifiers, allowing dirt and oil to be easily washed away by water. These properties make soap an excellent cleanser. Soap, by definition, is naturally alkaline, with a pH of around 9 to 10

The high pH of soap is the primary reason it causes eye irritation. The pH of the human eye is roughly neutral. When soap gets into the eye, the eye’s pH is thrown off balance, which causes burning, redness, and tears. 

Depending on the formulation, a soap may be more or less irritating. Aside from the pH, additives like fragrance, preservatives, and active ingredients can cause increased eye irritation. 

Baby shampoo/body wash

There is no need to use a harsh, heavy-duty cleanser when you are bathing your little one.

Baby shampoos and soaps typically have a pH that is closer to the natural pH of skin and eyes, which is near neutral (pH 7). They also tend to have less or no fragrance and fewer unnecessary ingredients, like essential oils and harsh detergents. 

Baby shampoos and body wash are specifically designed to be gentle on your baby’s skin. They may even be marketed as “tear-free.”

Normal shampoo/body wash

Normal shampoo and body wash usually have added ingredients that target additional concerns which make them antibacterial, odor-controlling, anti-aging, clarifying, or exfoliating, among other features.

Getting normal soap or body wash into your baby’s eyes will likely cause a greater amount of irritation because, unlike baby soaps and shampoos, these are not specifically formulated to be gentle on the eyes. 

These added ingredients are not necessary for babies and can increase the likelihood of irritation.    

Medicated shampoo

Medicated shampoos, such as Head & Shoulders Dandruff Shampoo, are sometimes recommended by pediatricians to treat cradle cap in babies.

Though effective, pyrithione zinc, the active ingredient found in many dandruff shampoos can cause increased irritation to the eyes.

Johns Hopkins All Children Hospital recommends staying away from anti-seborrhea shampoos as well as antifungals and steroid creams.

If your baby suffers from cradle cap:

  • Shampoo your baby’s hair with a gentle, tear-free shampoo.
  • Use a toothbrush or soft-bristled brush to loosen flakes. 
  • If flakes persist, apply a small amount of petroleum jelly or mineral oil to the affected area, and let it soak in (several minutes to hours).
  • Again, exfoliate your baby’s head with a toothbrush or soft-bristled brush.
  • Shampoo as usual. 

Dish soap

Like body wash and shampoo, dish soap contains a surfactant that allows it to cut through grease and grime. In contrast to popular belief, most popular dish soaps such as Dawn Liquid Dish Soap, are no more caustic than many body soaps on the market

Although dish soap has some of the same ingredients found in body wash and shampoos, it lacks conditioning properties that are found in many bodycare products. Because of this, using dish soap as a body wash or shampoo may leave your little one’s skin and hair feeling stripped of its natural oils. 

Though not recommended for the skin and hair, if dish soap gets in your little one’s eye, the treatment should be the same as if it were shampoo or body wash. This requires you to flush the eye with clean water until the stinging subsides. 

Castile soaps are sometimes found in natural dish detergents. Though these soaps are more natural, they often have a higher pH than traditional dish detergents, ranging up to a pH of 11.5. So keep in mind, even if a product is considered more “natural,” it is not necessarily safer. 

Along with more caustic dish detergents, care should be taken when using dish soaps with the following ingredients:

  • Bleach
  • Ammonia
  • Sodium hydroxide (in high concentrations)
  • Physical abrasives

Can soap in baby’s eyes cause blindness?

Experts agree that getting soap in your baby’s eyes will likely only result in irritation or a mild injury.

Though not it is not likely to result in severe injury, it is still important to immediately flush the eye to remove soap from causing excessive irritation.

Extensive injuries, such as loss of vision, corneal scarring, glaucoma, and cataracts, have been reported in cases involving household cleaners like oven cleaner and drain cleaner. These products are much harsher than traditional soaps and should always be kept away from children.

What to do if soap gets in baby’s eyes

Getting soap in your baby’s eyes can be a shock to both you and your baby.

Though soap can cause a great deal of irritation, it is unlikely to result in an eye injury, especially if it is removed quickly. 

If you get soap in your baby’s eyes, it is important to remain calm so that you can help calm your little one and flush the soap out of your baby’s eyes.  

Can you flush a baby’s eye?

If your baby gets soap in their eyes, you should get the soap out of their eyes as quickly as possible to avoid significant irritation or injury. Immediate eye irrigation, or flushing, with large amounts of water has a massive impact on the severity of alkali burns to the eyes

Depending on the type of soap and concentration, you may be able to remedy the situation with a clean wet washcloth or by squirting a small amount of clean water into their eyes using an eyedropper or syringe. However, if this doesn’t give them relief, you will need to flush their eyes with a substantial amount of water. 

To flush a baby’s eyes:

  • Fill a pitcher with clean lukewarm water.
  • Position your baby over the sink with the affected eye facing down, 
  • Pull their lower lid down. 
  • Gently pour water into the eye or eyes. 
  • Continue flushing for 15 minutes. 

Baby soaps that won’t hurt baby’s eyes

Luckily, there are a wide variety of baby soaps and shampoos on the market that are formulated to be gentle on baby skin and eyes. 

Ingredients to avoid:

Aside from very alkaline (pH 9-10) soaps, many ingredients can cause increased eye irritation. These should be avoided when choosing a soap for your baby soap.

Irritating ingredients include:

Recommendations

While getting soap and water in your baby’s eyes will probably still be bothersome, using a mild shampoo or body wash can help reduce any irritation.

Here are some gentle, tear-free baby washes that we love:  

  • The Honest Company Perfectly Gentle Sweet Orange Vanilla Shampoo + Body Wash, Tear-Free Baby Shampoo is formulated without phthalates, parabens, synthetic fragrances, dyes, formaldehyde, sodium lauryl sulfate, or sodium lauryl ether sulfate. It is a hypoallergenic, tear-free formula that is great for the entire family. They also offer a fragrance-free option for extra-sensitive skin. 
  • Dove’s Tip to Toe Baby Wash and Shampoo is ophthalmologist, dermatologist, and pediatrician tested. It is made without dyes, parabens, sulfates, or phthalates and is tear-free and hypoallergenic. This body wash/shampoo combo is very rich, which is great for dry skin.
  • Mustela Stelatopia, Cleansing Oil, Baby Body Wash is developed for sensitive, eczema-prone skin. It is dermatologist and pediatrician tested. It contains 98% natural ingredients and is free from parabens, steroids, phthalates, phenoxyethanol, and fragrance. It is also completely soap-free, using oil to gently cleanse the skin. 
  • Mustela Cradle Cap Foam Shampoo for Newborns is a widely recommended shampoo that is designed to treat and reduce the occurrence of cradle cap. Unlike many other cradle cap treatments, this is a tear-free formula. It is also dermatologist and pediatrician tested and free of parabens, phthalates, phenoxyethanol, dyes, and fragrance.
  • Free & Clear Liquid Cleanser, though not specifically formulated for babies, is gentle enough for your little one. It is dermatologist tested and is formulated without dyes, fragrance, masking fragrance, parabens, formaldehyde, sulfate, and gluten. 

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