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Allergic to a Baby Wipe?

Most parents with young children find themselves wiping their children’s faces several times a day, at the minimum. In the “olden days” I remember my own mother wiping my face...

Most parents with young children find themselves wiping their children’s faces several times a day, at the minimum. In the “olden days” I remember my own mother wiping my face with a bit of “her spit” on her finger which she used as as a washcloth, when there was nothing else available. (I swore I would never do that myself, but of course, never say never).  But in this century, most parents have the luxury of using a wet wipe/baby wipe rather than a mother’s spit.

Interestingly, there are now several reports of an allergic contact rash developing in some children who have had their faces wiped with wet wipes.  Not only are children having their bottoms wiped, it seems that people of all ages are now using wet wipes for washing hands and faces.  They travel well and are being heavily marketed for their convenience.

It seems that the culprit in these new cases is methylisothiazolinone (MI) a chemical found in certain brands of wet wipes. Previously, baby wipes contained a lower percentage of MI, but in recent times the concentration of MI has increased by more than 25 times, as it was not thought to cause sensitization.

This small study of 8 children, and another study from Australia also showed that once the children stopped using the wipes, their “mystery” rash resolved.

The American Contact Dermatitis Society has named the chemical MI the contact allergen of the year. Somewhat like being named “most likely to succeed”

So, doctors and parents need to be on the lookout for unusual rashes that appear to be red, eczematous and sometimes impetiginous, that do not resolve with usual treatment.  It might be worth looking at what kinds of wipes a family is using and if they contain the chemical MI (which may also be found in some soaps and shampoos).  In the study, all of the patients had rapid resolution of their rash, within about 2 days after discontinuing the use of wipes. Most of the children had experience symptoms for 1-12 months before being appropriately diagnosed.  

Hmmm..who knew spit would be better tolerated.  

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About Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award winning pediatrician and medical editor for www.kidsdr.com.  She is a native of Washington, D.C. who travelled south to attend the University of Texas at Austin and never left.Read More