Yikes, the Baby Wipe Ingredient That's Triggering Nasty Rashes

Baby wipes, not so gentle after all (Photo: Getty)
Baby wipes, not so gentle after all (Photo: Getty)

Any parent knows how convenient moist wipes are, and not just for baby's diaper changes-wipes are to clean up older kid's dirty hands and faces, and they are increasingly being marketed to adults as toilet paper and facial cleansers. While they are usually labeled safe for sensitive skin, a study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday has linked a preservative found in many brands of wipes to itchy, scaly, and painful rashes, including some touted as hypoallergenic. It's the first time that the chemical methylisothiazolinone (MI) has been reported to cause allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) in children in the United States.

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The authors, Dr. Mary Chang Wu, a dermatologist and professor at the University of Connecticut, and one her medical students, Radhika Nakrani, looked at the cases of six children, ages 3-8, who suffered from persistent rashes that did not respond to topical and oral antibiotics and steroids. Since the rashes were located on the childrens' hands, faces, and bottoms, Chang asked their parents about exposure to wipes. The parents confirmed that all of the children regularly used two brands of moist wipes, Huggies and Cotonelle, both produced by Kimberley-Clarke. Patch tests revealed that the kids were allergic to MI. Their skin cleared up within days of discontinuing wipes and the rashes did not come back.

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"This preservative is not new," Dr. Chang told HealthDay. "But it was used as a combination preservative [with methylchloroisothiazolinone/MCI] for many years. To try to minimize allergic reactions, it is now being used as a single preservative but in higher concentrations, and now people are developing allergic rashes to the new formulation." According to the study, since 2006 when the MI/MCI combination was phased out, the amount of MI in some products has been increased from 3.7 parts per million to as much as 100 parts per million, the maximum allowed by the FDA. In addition to wipes, according Skin and Allergy News, it's found in at least 2,600 personal care products sold in the United States including shampoo, lotion, sunblock, and shower gel.

In December 2013, Cosmetics Europe, the trade commission that oversees personal care products in the European Union, told its members to voluntarily stop using MI their products. According to the U.K Telegraph, the British Association of Dermatologists first raised the alarm six months earlier, reporting that about one in 10 patients showing up at their offices plagued by skin rashes such as eczema and ACD were, in fact, allergic to the preservative. MI is banned from cosmetics in Canada and Japan.

A spokesperson for Kimberley-Clarke provided a statement to Yahoo Shine by email that said, "Kimberly-Clark has a long history of providing products that improve the health, hygiene, and well-being of families everywhere and is constantly striving to identify and develop new solutions that respond to our consumers' needs. While our wipe products remain safe for use, we recognize that recent studies have raised concerns about the use of MI as a preservative ingredient." It continued, "We have been evaluating alternative preservative options over the past few years and are now ready to confirm that, beginning this month, Kimberly-Clark will start introducing new wet wipes that are MI-free across its entire product range in the U.S., Canada, Europe and other global markets."

If you or your children experiences skin rashes, it makes sense to read labels and avoid purchasing personal care products and cosmetics containing MI. Even if you aren't allergic, regular exposure can cause allergies to develop over time. "More and more people are using these products and becoming sensitized to the preservative," said Chang.

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