Most parents have used disposable baby wipes at some time.
They are commonly used in households around the world – for wiping bottoms, cleaning hands after a fall, and even for wiping down mucky tabletops.
According to recent research, however, the use of baby wipes could be to blame for an increase in food allergies in babies and children.
How Can Baby Wipes Cause Food Allergies?
The study found a mix of environmental and genetic factors has to coexist in order to trigger food allergies in infants and children.
Children with allergies usually have three gene mutations that cause the skin barrier to be diminished. This leaves children exposed to allergens. But not all children with the gene mutations develop food allergies.
In the study, the researchers used mice with the same gene mutations, and exposed them to peanuts; the mice showed no reaction.
Looking further, the researchers introduced several environmental factors to which babies and children are commonly exposed.
They tested these factors on mice with the same gene mutations and found the mice reacted to allergens like dust or peanuts only if they had first been exposed to soap.
Sodium lauryl sulfate is an ingredient of soap, and is also commonly found in baby wipes and many soap products. This ingredient makes the skin barrier weaker. The top layer of skin is made of fats, which are neutralised by soap. Baby wipes leave a layer of soap on the baby’s skin, essentially eroding an important barrier against allergens.
The combination of gene mutations and soap on the skin allows allergens to make their way in. The exposure to allergens doesn’t have to occur directly – for example, by eating peanut butter. An adult or older sibling who has recently eaten a peanut butter sandwich and who then kisses or holds the baby can cause a reaction in the baby.
Skin barrier mutations are not apparent until well after a food allergy has already developed. The mice used in the study had skin mutations, but showed normal skin. They didn’t show any signs of eczema until they were a few months old; in human terms this is the equivalent age of a young adult.
What Does This Mean For Parents?
Baby wipes are a convenience many parents aren’t willing to live without. From cleaning bottoms and wiping snotty noses, to mopping up that spilled drink in the back seat of the car, baby wipes are useful for almost everything; rumour has it they even clean permanent marker scribbles from walls.
The box of wipes is among the must-have items all parents have stashed away in nappy bags or on the change table, despite the huge environmental impact of wipes, such as clogging drains and sewers, and being ingested by animals after they reach the ocean.
There is also evidence to suggest methylisothia-zolinone, a preservative used in baby wipes, causes a severe allergic reaction, including a blistery red rash.
So what are parents to do, to reduce the chances of exposing their babies and children to allergies?
- The best solution is to avoid or limit the use of wipes that contain any soaps and preservatives.
- Soaps can be very harsh on babies’ skin and you can avoid compromising their skin barrier by only using water only to wash. Try it, using a cloth that can be washed and reused many times.
- If you use soap, rinse baby’s skin with water afterwards.
- Always wash your hands before you pick up small children, to avoid transferring potential allergens.