- Researchers warn the routine use of wet wipes appears to be a significant contributor to the rise in childhood food allergies
- Chemicals found in wet wipes can break down the top layer of skin, allowing the skin to absorb allergens that can trigger allergic reactions, especially if your child carries genes that alter their skin absorbency
- Wet wipes have also become notorious for clogging up sewer lines, costing municipalities millions each year. The wipes are also entering the environment, where they pose risks to wildlife similar to that of plastic pollution
- To clean your baby, mild soap and lukewarm water are all that’s needed. Use a soft cloth and a light touch to avoid skin abrasions. If you have to use a wet wipe, be sure to wash off any residue with water before putting on another diaper
- For adults, using a bidet is as refreshing as a wet wipe and gentler than paper, and dramatically reduces the potential for fecal contamination of your hands
Editor’s Note: This article is a reprint. It was originally published April 25, 2018.
Are you in the habit of using wet wipes on yourself or your baby? If so, your quest for clean may be doing more harm than good, and in more ways than one. With an infusion of aloe and fragrance, some people have made a complete switch from toilet paper to wet wipes, not realizing that the chemicals used, such as preservatives and fragrances, can cause painful skin irritation around your privates and other health problems.1
Wet wipes are also clogging sewers, necessitating costly repairs. Many wipes are now advertised as biodegradable and flushable, making them all the more convenient to use on the toilet. However, the congealed lumps of fat-soaked sanitary items known as “fatbergs” being pulled from residential and city sewer lines make it clear they’re nowhere near as degradable as claimed.
Wet Wipes Promote Food Allergies in Babies
Most recently, researchers discovered there’s a link between skin damage and food intolerance,2,3,4 warning the routine use of wet wipes appears to be a significant contributor to the rise in childhood allergies. Proper cleansing, they say, requires nothing more than plain soap and water. The chemicals found in wet wipes can break down the top layer of skin, allowing the skin to absorb allergens — a chain of events that augments your child’s risk for allergic reactions.
Genetic predisposition to skin barrier dysfunctions also plays a role, raising your risk of allergies, but even if your child does not have a genetic predisposition to skin barrier damage, the routine use of wet wipes can cause the skin barrier to break down, allowing allergens to enter.
The U.K. struggles with the highest rates of allergic conditions in the world. More than 1 in 5 Britons has some form of allergy, and hospital admissions for anaphylaxis has increased by more than 615% in the last 26 years. An estimated 8% of British children are allergic to one or more foods, and one-third of those also have eczema.
In the U.S., an estimated 4% to 6% of children are affected by food allergies, and prevalence increased 18% in the two decades between 1997 and 2007.5
Food Allergies Are Preceded by Skin Barrier Dysfunction
In this study, they discovered that in order for a food allergy to develop, it had to be preceded by skin barrier dysfunction. Neonatal mice genetically predisposed to skin barrier defects were first exposed to sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), a soap commonly found in wet wipes, followed by three or four topical food and dust allergens for 40 minutes over the course of two weeks.
After that, they were given egg or peanut orally, which resulted in allergic rash at the site of skin exposure, allergic reactions in their intestines and signs of body-wide anaphylaxis. Simply exposing the skin to peanuts, without the SLS, did not result in allergic reactions. As reported by Northwestern University:6
“The factors contributing to food allergy include the genetics that alter skin absorbency, use of infant cleansing wipes that leave soap on the skin, skin exposure to allergens in dust and skin exposure to food from those providing infant care. Food allergy is triggered when these factors occur together.”
To avoid this, lead author Joan Cook-Mills, a professor at Northwestern University, recommends reducing your baby’s skin exposure to allergens by washing your hands before handling your child, limiting the use of wet wipes (as they leave soap on the skin that damages the skin barrier) and simply rinsing your baby’s bottom with soap and water.