Would you be surprised to learn that baby wipes are a relatively new product? American inventor, Arthur Julius, who later trademarked the term “Wet-Nap” in 1958, developed the original concept in the late 1950s (1).
Even then, these moistened “towelettes” were initially intended for use as hand-cleaning products. They were unveiled at the 1960 National Restaurant Show in Chicago, after which they were retailed to restaurants in 1963 (2).
When it comes to baby wipes, the first product only came to the market in 1990 (3). Until then, parents dealt with diaper changing much like their ancestors did. As with most products, when baby wipes were debuted in the billion-dollar baby market, they were relatively pricey.
Since then, numerous companies have jumped on the wet-wipe bandwagon, often outsourcing production or using newer technology to create more affordable options.
There are actually a number of hidden ingredients in baby wipes. Current law does not require manufacturers to list some chemicals, especially if they result from chemical reactions, i.e. by-products, or they are contaminants. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization dedicated to informing consumers about chemicals and other toxins in commercial products, analyzed 7,500 different personal care products manufactured by an array of companies. Their findings are truly shocking (5,6).
“Eighty percent of all products assessed contain ingredients that can be contaminated with impurities linked to cancer and other health problems, including more than 80 percent of all lip balms and baby bath products.”
While finding out that nearly all of our personal care products contain harmful toxic chemicals that can hurt us is upsetting in and of itself, the fact that we have also been unintentionally subjecting our children, the most vulnerable among us, to these toxins, is extremely disturbing.
As parents, we trust companies to produce products that are safe and at the very least, will not harm our children. It is unfathomable to most people to think that a company would knowingly put an innocent child in harm’s way, yet that is exactly what appears to be happening when it comes to baby wipes and likely hundreds of other commercial products we use every day.
According to the EWG’s study, 19 out of 20 of the baby wipes tested contain harmful, hidden ingredients that include “impurities, contaminants, and by-products of manufacturing processes.” The safety of these ingredients is not regulated by the FDA, which leaves the door wide open for any number of these ingredients to make their way into the products we use on our children.
“In a 1998 personal care product testing program, a European government agency found carcinogenic impurities in 43 percent of 128 products tested (DTI 1998), including baby lotion and shampoo, sunscreen, and liquid soap.”
In fact, the list of toxic ingredients includes such things as formaldehyde, which results from a number of formaldehyde-releasing preservatives, hydroquinone, ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, and various phthalates, all of which is highly toxic (7). One of the more controversial toxic chemicals in baby wipes, as of late, however, is a preservative called methylisothiazolinone (MI).
What is Methylisothiazolinone?
Methylisothiazolinone is “a powerful synthetic biocide and preservative within the group of isothiazolinines, which is used in numerous personal care products and a wide range of industrial applications.” (8)
This chemical made headlines when a number of parents came forward with horrific stories (and pictures) of unexplained rashes on their children’s buttocks, genitals, and even faces. Many parents also experienced similar rashes on their hands. The incidence of this extremely itchy, red and often blistering rash, known as allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), has been drastically increasing since the rise in the use of MI.
According to Dr. Jennifer Cahill, a dermatologist with the Skin and Cancer Foundation Inc., “Our current rate of positive test reactions to MI to November 2013 is 11.3% (40 patients who had relevant reactions of a total 353), compared with a rate of 3.5% (15/428) in 2011 and 8.4% (38/454) in 2012.” (9)
The prevalence of the condition has become so common that since 2011, following reports in Europe of increasing numbers of cases of MI ACD, the center now includes MI in their baseline allergy patch test.
Other studies confirm that more people are becoming increasingly sensitive to MI (10). A 2015 study further suggests that “MI is an important emerging allergen whose sensitization frequency is rising,” and as such, testing for MI should be added to standard allergy tests (11).
Methylisothiazolinone In Baby Wipes
Methylisothiazolinone is typically used in baby wipes to prevent bacterial contamination. According to Cahill, MI is now the most common cause of ACD among all of their patients.
NBC News also revealed a study by Dr. Mary Wu Chang, associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University Of Connecticut School Of Medicine (12). Chang’s study looked at six confirmed cases of MI allergic contact dermatitis (13). She says, “ACD to MI in wet wipes is frequently misdiagnosed as eczema, impetigo, or psoriasis.” This study, which she adds, “is the first report of pediatric ACD to MI in wet wipes in the United States,” not only confirms that baby wipes are the cause of this often debilitating rash, but that all “isothiozolinones should be avoided in personal care and household products.”
The prevalence of ACD resulting from MI made headlines in other news stories. In one story, dermatologist Dr. Ellen Frankel clearly warns parents against using these commercial wipes.
“I always tell parents take caution using baby wipes. They have a lot of chemicals in there, and can irritate skin that’s already damaged sitting in urine, or feces, or sitting in a diaper that’s just got an inclusive surface on it.” (14)
Many harmful ingredients in baby wipes are not even listed on the label, so it is important that you do your research before buying any commercial brand. Many manufacturers are now making natural alternatives to chemical-laden wipes, so if you are not up to making your own wipes, or simply using a cloth and warm water, you can still opt for the convenience of commercial wipes. Check your local health food store, or other stores that carry chemical-free products.
There are also many websites that offer inexpensive ways to create your own wipes. One quick and easy alternative is an almond oil and chamomile tea baby wipe solution you just spray on a clean cloth to clean your baby’s bottom (15).
All you need is:
- 2 chamomile tea bags
- 2 teaspoons almond oil
- 2 cups hot water
According to the directions, simply steep the chamomile tea in hot water before you add the almond oil. When cool, pour it into a spray bottle and you are good to go (16)!