Any parent knows how convenient baby wipes are, and not just for diaper changes. Moist wipes are great for cleaning up older kids' dirty hands and faces, and they are increasingly being marketed to adults as toilet paper and facial cleansers. While they're 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 — even some wipes 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.
The authors, Dr. Mary Wu Chang, a dermatologist and professor at the University of Connecticut, and Radhika Nakrani, one of her medical students, looked at the cases of six children, ages 3 to 8, who suffered from persistent rashes that did not respond to topical and oral antibiotics and steroids. Since the rashes were located on the children's hands, faces, and bottoms, Chang asked their parents about exposure to wipes. The parents all confirmed that they regularly used two brands of moist wipes on their children: Huggies and Cottonelle, both produced by Kimberly-Clark. Patch tests revealed that the kids were allergic to MI. Their skin cleared up within days of discontinuing use of the wipes, and the rashes did not come back.
"This preservative is not new," 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 Chang's study, 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, since 2006 when the MI-MCI combination was phased out. In addition to wipes, according to Skin and Allergy News, MI is 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 the personal care product industry in the European Union, told its members to voluntarily stop using MI in the products they manufacture. According to the UK's Telegraph, the British Association of Dermatologists first raised the alarm six months earlier, reporting that about one in 10 patients showing up at its members' offices plagued by skin rashes such as eczema and ACD was, in fact, allergic to the preservative. MI is currently banned from cosmetics in Canada and Japan.
A spokesperson for Kimberly-Clark provided a statement to Yahoo! Shine by email that stated, "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 US, Canada, Europe, and other global markets."
If you or your children experience 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.
— Sarah B. Weir