Moms everywhere have come to rely on products like baby wipes for infants and wet wipes for older children as an easy, convenient way to add an extra layer of cleanliness to a messy situation. Adults use them, too. Lately, however, those wet wipes have been implicated as the cause of lingering rashes in adults and small children. When these rashes didn’t respond to standard treatments, further research revealed the culprit to be the wet wipes themselves.

Between March 2011 and January 2013, six cases of untreatable rashes were brought to the attention of researchers at the University of Connecticut (UC) School of Medicine in Farmington. Each case involved a rash on children aged 3 to 8, none of whom wore diapers anymore.

Another outbreak of mystifying rashes occurred in 2010 in Belgium. This time, all patients were adults who used moist toilet paper.

The UC research team used patch testing to determine the preservative used in the personal hygiene products that were causing allergic reactions. Once use of the products ended, the rashes all cleared up.

The Kimberley-Clark Corporation manufactures both product lines that caused the rashes: Huggies and Cottonelle. The preservative causing the rashes is methylisothiazolinone (MI) and is widely used in many personal care products as well as in cosmetics. Bob Brand, a spokesperson for Kimberley-Clark, says that about half of all wet wipes sold in the US contain MI.

These products have been in popular use for many years but the rashes only started appearing in the last few years. Brand attributes this phenomenon to a manufacturing change. Originally, two preservatives were used - MI and MCI (methylchloroisothiazolinone) - but MCI was eventually omitted in an effort to avoid triggering allergic reactions. When the MCI was removed, a higher concentration of MI took its place. It’s this higher concentration of MI that is causing the rashes now.

In response to the outbreak of rashes, Kimberley-Clark is once again altering its formula. Beginning in January 2014, the company is introducing MI-free products to its markets in the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. This formula change will affect its entire product line, not just the wet wipes in question.

Meanwhile, parents are urged to discontinue use of baby wipes and wet wipes if children exhibit symptoms of rash that include:

  • Crusty patches of skin
  • Swelling
  • Blistering
  • Tiny cracks on the hands, cheeks, mouth, and buttocks area

Dr. Mary Wu Chang, author of the UC study, says “it’s up to the manufacturer which preservative is used” and that MI isn’t the only preservative currently being used. She urges consumers to “learn how to read labels and be aware” of the chemicals used in these products since MI is only one of many commonly used chemicals that can trigger allergic reactions.

Source: “Preservative in Baby Wipes Linked to Rashes in Some Children.” MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health.   Jan 13, 2014. Web. Jan 23, 2014.