Nearly every baby gets a rash at some point. Usually, some baby ointment clears it up in a day or two.
But then there are some babies that develop a rash that just won’t go away. If your baby has a persistent diaper rash, or you start noticing the rash spreading to other parts of their body, it may be an allergic reaction to a chemical in the wipe.
Lately, there have been more reported cases of babies (and even adults) with an allergy to a common preservative used in baby wipes called methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (MCI/MI). This allergy usually causes a skin reaction called “allergic contact dermatitis.”
Other potentially allergy-inducing chemicals commonly found in baby and wet wipes include:
- Tocopheryl acetate
- Petrol-based propylene glycol
Allergic contact dermatitis from wet wipes most commonly afflicts babies and young children, though it can also appear on adults who use these products.
Signs of an allergic reaction to baby wipes
The most common signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to baby wipes are:
- Scaly, itchy rash on bottom, mouth, hands, and anywhere else a wipe might be used to clean your baby
- Redness and swelling
- Bumps on the skin that develop into sore blisters
- Peeling skin
Allergic contact dermatitis is an itchy, red rash that occurs after contact with an allergen. Poison ivy rashes are perhaps the most well-known contact dermatitis rashes. But dermatitis rashes caused by MI are on the rise.
Severe cases of rashes caused by MI may not only be red and itchy, but also blistered and quite painful. The most affected areas typically include the genitals, buttocks, fingers, hands and face.
The rise of methylisothiazolinone
While the cosmetics industry has used MI for years, the concentration of the ingredient in products has recently increased as the industry has phased out other types of controversial preservatives like parabens, specifically in products marketed for babies and children.
It’s well known that babies have more sensitive skin than adults. What’s not as well known is why. One hypothesis is that newborns have more absorbent skin because it’s thinner and also has a greater surface area, so anything that touches it is instantly absorbed.
In addition to baby and child cosmetic products, MI is prevalent in a number of household products—particularly ones that are water-based. The chemical is used as a preservative to inhibit the growth of mold and bacteria. Any type of wet wipe—be it a baby wipe, a children’s wipe, an adult’s flushable wipe or an antibacterial wipe—could contain MI.
Other products that may use MI include:
- Shampoos, conditioners, and other hair products
- Liquid hand soaps
- Shower and shave gels
- Laundry detergents
You can look through the ingredients list of your self-care products to see if they contain MI, or you can look them up using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep, a database that rates self-care products based on their potential toxicity.
What to do if you suspect a baby wipe allergy
If you suspect your baby is allergic to MI or some other ingredient in baby wipes, try using water and a washcloth to clean them during a diaper change whenever possible to see if the rash clears up. Or if you’re experiencing a rash yourself, you may want to get tested to see if you’re allergic to MI.
Experts recommend using the product in question on the inside of your arm, where your elbow is, twice a day for 2 weeks. This test should help you discern if it’s the wipes that are ultimately causing you or your baby pain.
If you suspect that you or your baby have an allergy related to MI, doctors say to give up the product in question for at least a month to see if the rash subsides. If you’re very concerned about the rash, make an appointment with your dermatologist.
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