Do you know what’s in your baby wipes? If not, it’s definitely worth pulling out a packet and scrutinising the ingredients list as many of the chemicals used to maintain wetness, prevent the growth of funky stuff and make pooey places smell pretty can have long-term health effects on our children.
How can there be toxic ingredients in baby wipes, you ask? It all boils down to the loopy regulatory systems in place for personal care products, which first of all say there are safe limits for damaging chemicals, and secondly do not test the vast majority of chemicals used in shampoos, soaps, bubble bath and so on unless they are shown to be toxic. Can you see the flaws in this great plan? Another little factoid that will set your teeth on edge is that those dangerous chemicals with “safe” limits (I’m looking at you, formaldehyde) have not been subjected to tests showing what happens with long-term exposure to very small amounts of the chemical, or a combination of chemicals. We humans are the test!
All this is obviously pretty disturbing but particularly so when it comes to our kids because they:
- suck and lick themselves and lots of other objects and surfaces;
- have an undeveloped blood-brain barrier;
- have a much higher surface area to weight ratio, meaning they absorb more stuff through their skin;
- breathe more air than us so can inhale more toxins; and
- are exposed to hundreds of chemicals from birth, the effects of which we don’t really understand.
Luckily, we have choices. And we have campaigners that bring these issues to light, and companies that choose not to take the easy or cheap way out. So next time you’re stocking up on baby wipes, look out for the following nasties.
10 baby wipes ingredients to avoid
A preservative and leading cause of dermatitis, according to the Skin and Cancer Foundation, look for the full name or abbreviation, MI.
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate (IPBC)
In New Zealand, baby wipes containing IPBC have been recalled and the preservative, which was originally used in paint and wood finishing products, has been banned for use in baby wipes (but it’s still ok to be used in other personal care products — hmmm…). IPBC is an allergen and skin irritant that can cause dermatitis. It is also believed to be acutely toxic when inhaled (or, say, sucked by a bub who’s been handed a baby wipe to wipe the muck off her own face).
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)
This is a surfactant that can irritate baby’s skin and possibly cause damage to the eyes. Even though this is often derived from coconuts, it’s still one to avoid.
Parabens, eg methylparaben
The paraben family of preservatives has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and hormonal problems, including infertility. Look for methlyparaben, propylparaben, butlylparaben and ethylparaben: anything ending with “paraben”. Huggies says methylparaben is safe, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says, “Parabens mimic oestrogen and can act as potential hormone (endocrine) system disruptors.”
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Again, there’s a whole range of these, which are added to help the cleaning agents dissolve grease. This strips natural moisture from the skin. PEGs are also suspected to cause damage to organs and the immune system. Look for any ingredient that starts with PEG, usually followed by a number.
This fragrance and skin-conditioning ingredient is likely to cause skin irritation at very low levels. Swap4Good puts Propylene Glycol on its “ugly” list, saying , “Derived from natural gas this ingredient has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. This ingredient is suspected of causing immunotoxicity, respiratory toxicity and skin or sense according to sources compiled by Scorecard (www.scorecard.org).”
Also on Swap4Good’s ugly list, this antibacterial ingredient is a known hormone disruptor and is restricted for use in Canada and Japan. Believed to be toxic to immune systems and sense organs, this should not be used anywhere near baby! Look for “antibacterial” on the packaging (unless the claim is “naturally antibacterial” with some kind of explanation why and how).
Used to make fragrances last longer, these chemicals are known hormone disruptors and particularly problematic for little boys’ sperm development. Phthalates won’t be listed in the ingredients, look for “fragrance” or “parfum” and avoid unless the fragrance is specifically listed as certified organic.
There are some preservatives that release formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing). These include DMDM hydantoin and 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, both of which are red-flagged by the EWG. These chemicals irritate skin, lungs and eyes, especially when used in contact with skin.
There are thousands of ingredients in personal care products, including baby-wipes, that are derived from oil and gas and fall under the category of petrochemicals. Issues with these ingredients range from smothering skin, to stripping natural oils, to causing cancer. Meanwhile, other chemicals may be treated with a petrochemicals to make them less harsh, and this process can cause the byproduct 1,4-dioxane, which is bad news. You can hunt through ingredients for the letters “eth” and other signs of ethoxylation or simply look for “contains no petrochemicals” on the label.
While this list may seem daunting, it’s well worth memorising at least a few of the ingredients. If I see the words paraben, PEG, glycol, fragrance or antibacterial on any personal care product, I put it back on the shelf. If your baby wipes packet reads like the one below (Curash Soap Free Lightly Fragranced Baby Wipes), it’s obviously not a great choice. But there are plenty of other options out there and now you know what to look out for! And remember, there’s always the EWG Skin Deep database where you can search ingredients to assess their safety for your bub.
Which baby wipes do you use? Have you checked out their ingredients?
Disposable Baby Wipes Linked to Dermatitis: Sydney Morning Herald
Baby Wipes Pulled Amid Health Risks: New Zealand Herald
Ingredients Explained: Swap4Good