Journal of Personal Science: Baby Shampoo Cured My Sinusitis

by Bill Mitchell

Chronic right-side sinusitis came as a shock in November 2008, at age 42. For weeks both sides (left and right) were blocked. I lost my sense of smell even after my left sinus cleared. An incapacitating headache lasted months. My right sinus was often totally blocked. I had previously been in very good health. I had never been to a hospital, never taken medication, no drugs, slender, athletic, normal blood sugar and pressure, no dental fillings, etc. Some hay fever, but no other allergies.

The breakthrough was finding out about baby shampoo. In less than a week of shampooing my nose, a six-month headache was gone. It recurred occasionally until I fixed environmental causes. I tried many things, but the two that mattered were replacing the household carpet and vacuuming my mattress every couple of weeks. A couple of years later, my sense of smell returned. When you regain a sense you thought was lost forever, you appreciate even the stinkiest odors!

I found out about the use of baby shampoo to treat sinusitis from the website of a UCSD professor of medicine named Terence Davidson, who died recently. [Use of baby shampoo to treat sinusitis seems to have been recently rediscovered by an Omaha journalist named Michah Mertes.] The website no longer exists, but is archived in the Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine shows that Dr. Davidson added mention of shampoo in summer of 2008, but by the summer of 2009 had removed it.  Why remove mention of the only treatment that seemed to matter?

Sinusitis treatment in the U.S. is doubly silly. First, nearly all chronic sinusitis is fungal (said the Mayo Clinic in 1999), yet antibiotics are universally prescribed, with no effect on the primary infection. Second, no one ever looks for environmental causes.

Things that didn’t help:
  • Consulted five doctors:  family GP, two urgent care, one internist, one ENT [ear nose throat].  None explored environmental causes.
  • X-ray ordered by internist.  Found a blob in the right sinus;  ordered antibiotics, which had no effect.
  • Scoped by ENT doctor.  He viewed only the left sinus, because the right (the one with the problem) was too narrow to get the instrument in. Pronouncing the left side normal, he prescribed steroids, which had no effect.
  • Medications prescribed in various combinations by all five docs, to no avail:  antibiotics, Claritin, Sudafed, steroid inhalers, Nasonex, pain relievers.
  • In my home, I sprayed bleach solution onto a small patch of mold found under my bedroom carpet.
  • Replaced a leaky shower stall and mushy floorboards that had caused the mold.
  • Hired an environmental consultant to look for mold in HVAC system.  Found none.
  • Had all acoustic ceilings removed, as they had been raining fine dust.
Things that helped slightly:
  • Sinus rinse with saline alone. Has worked well for daily “maintenance,” but when trying fix the headache and closed sinus, was like chipping at an iceberg with an icepick.
  • Sinus rinse laced with topical antibiotic (obtained under prescription, at my request, from a doctor friend who saw no harm in it — purchased pre-mixed in saline solution, from a compounding pharmacy). Not obviously better than rinse alone.
  • Sinus rinse laced with topical antibiotics, administered with my head upside-down, and left to steep in the sinuses for 20 minutes. My idea here was to use the antibiotics in part to prevent the side effect of an ear infection, since some water might go into the ears when re-inverting. No ear infection, but not much sinus relief either.
Things that obviously worked:
  • Reading about and treating biofilms with surfactants. This was a breakthrough.
    • Shampoo-laced sinus rinse was the first real success.
    • Repeated shampoo rinse, at intervals of 30 to 60 minutes. My idea was to let the surfactant break things up, then wash again while everything was wet and loose. This was much more effective than just once a day.
    • Simplest setup: I use a Neilmed squeeze bottle and salt packets (avail in supermarkets), mixed with tap water. I use tap because I trust that our city water is clean and chlorinated. I do not use warm tap water, because water heaters are supposedly bacteria farms. I use almost a teaspoon of Johnson’s baby shampoo in 16 oz. of water. Using this much is painful — stings the nasal passage. Recently I learned that someone else gets the same relief, and no pain, using only a few drops of shampoo.
  • Became more aware of a “sinus closing down” feeling. After a few months of relief, I could more keenly sense when my sinus would begin closing/inflaming/whatever, usually in response to dust exposure at home.  This feeling could be used as a signal to decide what to fix next. Examples:
    • When sinuses closed, e.g. while kicking up dust cleaning the garage, I tried putting on a HEPA-filtered painter’s mask (bought at Ace Hardware), to verify that sinuses promptly opened back up again. They did.
    • Purchased a highly-rated (per Consumer Reports) bagged vacuum cleaner. I suspect that cheap bagless vacuums (anything you buy at Target) silt up immediately, then simply blow dust around the house. So my sinus tells me.
    • Replaced the carpet, and vacuumed up the thick layer of dust beneath the carpet. Have not had a serious sinusitis recurrence since doing this.
    • Began vacuuming my  mattress every two weeks.  Probably should replace it:  even now, I can feel my right sinus start to close after a few weeks if I don’t vacuum it.
    • My sofa is a dust trap. I can feel it. Vacuuming doesn’t help — it’s on the replace-soon list, but I can afford to wait because things are under control now.
Possibly interesting endnotes:
  • At age 45, I got my first cavity.  Dentist said this was unheard of:  you either get cavities before age 25, or never.  Cavity immunity is hereditary;  neither my father nor his father ever had any;  my siblings have none, except for a few my brother got after radiation treatment for cancer.  My own unusual cavity occurred in the right maxillary first molar — a tooth whose root reaches up into my troubled right sinus. I mentioned to the dentist that it seemed interesting that this cavity, which he considered so unusual, should occur in the same location, at almost the same time, as the only other medical problem I’ve ever had. He said there was no connection, and, sounding a little bored, changed the subject.
  • My right nasolacrymal duct is now wider than before — air escapes from beneath my right eyelid when I sneeze. Seems benign. Amuse your friends, loads of laughs.
  • Warning on ear aches: nasal irrigation with too much pressure, or laying down on your side too soon after nasal irrigation, can let water drain into the middle ear, causing ear aches. I read the warnings and was careful, but still had this problem a few times. It was a small price to pay.
  • I tell other sinus sufferers how well this worked for me, but it’s hard to get anyone to try. Either they are grossed out by the process (understandable), or they have read the scare stories about fatal amoebic infections after sinus rinsing with bad tap water. These cases are extremely rare, and I believe all occurred when using untreated water in hot, humid climates. But the phrase “brain-eating amoeba” sure resonates — no one wants to try it.
Possible origins of my sinusitis:
  • 3-week visit to the Philippines a year earlier (no obvious infection).
  • 1-week camping trip in the Sierras 6 months earlier (no obvious infection).
  • Exposure to smoke from the Freeway Complex Fire, the 4th largest fire in Orange County history, which partially burned a landfill, i.e. potential random toxicity. The sinusitis and headaches began within days after the fire;  however, I was 10 miles downwind — pretty far.
  • 1-month stay in someone else’s house in December 2008, where the central heater was later found to be leaking a trace amount of carbon monoxide. This was concurrent with the worst of the sinusitis, but it did not get better when I went back to my own home. My family stayed in the same house, with no ill effect.
  • In recent years, eating crappy batter-fried restaurant food increasingly causes strange nose/throat effects, such as wheezing and temporary sinus blockage. Fried chicken at Knott’s Berry Farm is the worst — instant shortness of breath. I can think of no reason this should happen, but there it is.


Remember how baby shampoo disappeared from the UCSD prof’s website?  Something similar happened at NeilMed’s website, and the reason may be a nasty side effect. This post says some people lost their sense of smell after using Neilmed’s surfactant additive. Neilmed makes my favorite sinus rinse product, which uses a squeeze bottle instead of gravity feed.  A few years ago they briefly began selling a surfactant additive, but then pulled it off the market, and now have only an undated post saying the re-release is 2 to 3 years away. Maybe risk of side effects is why the UCSD guy removed it.

22 Replies to “Journal of Personal Science: Baby Shampoo Cured My Sinusitis”

  1. Very interesting! First off, using baby shampoo sounds plausible, but once a hairdresser told me that any shampoo that has anti-tear properties is very harsh. Could other “basic” shampoos be as effective? I admit that it is extremely difficult to find a ‘normal’ plain shampoo.

    I have recently taken up drinking plain, warm water. It makes sense that water heaters are “bacteria farms” as they tend to stay warm for a good part of the time. I enjoy warm water because I think it tastes differently from just tap cold or refrigerated water. I can change that I’m not picky.

    Interesting observations about battered fast food. Whenever my husband eats fast food battered or otherwise, he gets a fair amount of mucuousy congestion (coughing, throat clearing) almost immediately! He knows there is a correlation, too. He has also suffered from mild asthma his whole life. I wonder if the asthma symptoms have other causes than what he thinks like cats etc? Since he likes the crispy chicken sandwiches but doesn’t always eat them, I peg the oil used to prepare French fries and other deep fried stuff even if it isn’t breaded. I don’t trust these places not to use the same oil for cooking multiple items.

  2. you can buy Hypoallergenic Mattress Protector , and do the same for your pillows, so you don’t have to vacuum the mattress.

  3. Some years back I suffered from eczema on my eyelids that persisted and persisted. I knew if I saw a dermatologist I would be given a steroid and did not want something that serious near my eyes – so stayed far away from the medical profession, except the medical literature. One source – a Mayo Clinic document – suggested using baby shampoo full strength on the eyelids twice a day. It worked amazingly well – after about 18 months of disfiguring and painful eyelids the baby shampoo cleared it up in less than a week. Hasn’t returned since (knocking on wood).

  4. Interesting article. I think the literature does use J&J Baby Shampoo. Recently, the company is replacing the old formula with one that doesn’t have formaldehyde (supposed to hit the stores in the near future). Any recommendations for other baby shampoos for the sinus rinse that are equally effective without formaldehyde? Also, given that biofilms are the problem in sinusitis, and the surfactants in the detergents are the solution to breaking down the solution, what are the active ingredients that we should be looking for when selecting a proper baby shampoo for this rinse?

  5. It’s no surprise that your dentist would not confirm your correlation — I would not be surprised if they are taught in dental school to deny, deny, deny! The differing metals in the typical amalgam filling constitute a battery, with saliva as electrolyte. So you might be able to get a lasting solution with the right dental work — I recommend Dr. Hal Huggins’-trained dentists (he has a website and contact number). My dental revision is making a huge difference for me!

  6. My wife and I usually have major sinus issues from Nov to March each year. This involves sinus rinses multiple times per week, Vaporub at night + a humidifier and taking the occasional decongestant. This fall a ran into a blog (can’t remember where) that recommended drinking a Tbsp of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar before bed. We only do this every other day or so and we dilute it with half a glass of water (I can’t image drinking it straight). The results have been shockingly awesome. I haven’t done a single rinse, the humidifier is still stashed away in a closer somewhere and I haven’t purchased any decons. We’ve experimented with skipping a 3-4 days and we both start to get a little clogged up.

    Seth: That’s interesting, especially since Japanese and Koreans drink vinegar drinks — for example, pomegranate vinegar. I like them and drink them too. There is about 1 tablespoon of vinegar in each drink.

  7. I have suffered sinus congestion for 30 years, trying everything from inhalers- effective for 12 hours-then no nose breathing whatsoever- and addictive; Pseudoephedrine- ineffective- and raised BP; steroids- ineffective; nasal antihistamine spray and pills- ineffective; months long series of allergy injections- so far no result; double dose of amoxicelian for the tooth-no change.
    A recent continuing sinus infection was surely caused by a right maxillary first molar infection which had an, apparently unsuccessful, root canal in 2011. I had it removed a week ago (leaving a hole the “size of a nickel” into my sinus cavity which had to be stitched up) but my right nostril is still partially blocked. I have been using a neti pot which helps for a while. I am considering breathing steaming water with a few drops of tea tree oil because of its antibiotic, and hopefully anti-fungal properties after seeing a ‘Dr. Oz’ program touting oregano oil for the same reasons.
    I would hesitate to sinus rinse with any commercial shampoo because of the many GRAS chemicals which I DO NOT RECOGNIZE AS SAFE and do not use. Remember that chemicals are easily absorbed through the skin and mucus membranes.
    My weak Delta Dental plan does not cover tooth implants, very little toward the cost of the Periodontists’ tooth extraction fee, and of course nothing toward ‘silver amalgam’ (Wikipedia: “It commonly consists of mercury (50%), silver (~22-32% ), tin (~14%)” tooth filling removal.

    Seth: I have Delta Dental and it covered about half the cost of my “silver amalgam” removal. Contact Sandor Hites, my dentist in Berkeley, to find out how this is done.

    About your sinus congestion: Have you considered the possibility that it is due to an allergy?

  8. Thanks Bill, that’s what I thought but Kathy’s comment seemed to imply (at least to me) she thought it went the other way. Re-reading your story I didn’t see it clearly mentioned so I thought I would ask.

    MD’s & antibiotics are like the old saying about hammers — when one’s only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

    Great story, and thanks for sharing. I’ve filed this away in my long-term memory. 🙂

    1. “MD’s & antibiotics are like the old saying about hammers — when one’s only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

      How true.

  9. “Remember that chemicals are easily absorbed through the skin and mucus membranes.”

    This is a good point. I use J&J baby shampoo, because it was (briefly) recommended by the UCSD researcher. Obviously it was designed to be non-irritating — “no more tears” — but as another commenter mentioned, until recently it contained quaternium-15, which breaks down over time into formaldehyde.

    J&J claimed in a Time interview that one apple contains more formaldehyde than 14 bottles of shampoo…

    …yet they changed the formula this month to eliminate quaternium.

    To reduce the unknowns, if anyone can suggest a simpler product, the simplest possible surfactant that does not irritate mucous membranes, that would be helpful.

  10. You should check out . She says cavities are caused by the wrong bacteria in your mouth making acid or acidic foods, and suggests using 3 different common mouthwashes, the original crest, and xylitol to reduce it, and it seems to work for me. I even have a xylitol nasal spray, but I haven’t tried it. I had gotten a lot of cavities lately and I’m in my upper 40s. I also have this weird inflamed feeling in the base of my nostrils when I’m hungry. And I have some stomach gastritis, but my dr said ‘everybody has that’. But I think my better mouth state helps everything else.

  11. When I was younger and even into my 30;s I had sinus trouble and ear infections frequently. In the last decade or so I take N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) 500mg morning and noon and xylitol (4 grams or so morning and evening). You can buy xylitol in bulk (e.g. 1-2kg bag) and get enough for 4-6 months. Theories, NAC thins mucous keeps flowing, xylitol breaks down bio-film and has a specific anti-bacterial effect (confused with sugar but not digestible by them).

    Two more things to consider stirring into the mix.

  12. I haven’t heard of the Baby shampoo treatment. I had really bad sinus trouble and heard from Jerry Pournelle that a SinuPulse would help. I bought one and used it with salt water for a couple of years almost every day. It helped but what worked best and finally stopped my sinus was using sea salt, a pinch of baking soda, a couple drops of Lugal’s solution and a 1/2 teaspoon of H2O2 in the sinupulse for wash. Now I still use it but infrequently as my sinus problems are not near as bad. The sinupulse is expensive but worth it if you have sinus as bad as I had. There’s two different kinds. One has a round tank. My round one stopped working in about a year. The other has a square tank and I still have it. It’s lasted longer. Of course the square tank cost more. I think the square one is called a SinuPulse Elite. I have no financial interest in SinuPulse . Just have used their products. I also would not use the dial valve that lowers the flow. I believe that it puts more pressure on the pump. If the flow is too much don’t press so hard against the nostril and let a little of the flow escape.

  13. One last thing. Twenty Mule Team Borax I bet would work better than baby shampoo. Borax is anti-fungal. Borax is also used to treat logs in log cabins but as borate but I believe it’s the element boran that causes the effect.

  14. Humming cures chronic sinusitis by increasing nasal gaseous Nitric Oxide (NO) -a natural antifungal- and it is actually free.

    Relevant studies:

    Strong humming for one hour daily to terminate chronic rhinosinusitis in four days: a case report and hypothesis for action by stimulation of endogenous nasal nitric oxide production.

    Humming-induced release of nasal nitric oxide for assessment of sinus obstruction in allergic rhinitis: pilot study.

    Humming greatly increases nasal nitric oxide.

  15. I had terrible sinus problems in high school — sinusitis, polyps. Eventually, my sense of smell was gone. Multiple visits to my ENT got me nowhere. Finally, in my late 20s, I started rinsing with a very strong saline solution (using an enema bag). Worked like a charm! My sense of smell, which had been mostly non-existent for 10 years, returned and has been with me now for over 20 years. No maintenance rinsing has been needed. The nice things about using the enema bag were that 1) the force was very easily controlled by my grip on the tube, and 2) those bags hold much more water than any neti pot or squeeze bottle.

  16. using an “enema bag”…now there’s a good idea
    i’ll have to go in search of a cheap ‘bag’ device myself now.
    i have used a netti type bottle and a smallish squeezable bottle in the past,
    & was looking for a better option without forking out loads of $$ on some fancy powered machine

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