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Adult and Baby Wet Wipes Can Cause Severe Allergic Reaction

A new study by the Mayo Clinic may change your mind about using wet wipes and baby wipes on your bottom.

The study was published here.Warning… the pictures are graphic.

Anyone with a baby can tell you that various brands of baby wipes can be skin irritating and result in rashes for some children. As a nurse, I watched some of my elderly patients develop severe genital and anal irritations, that appeared to worsen with each cleaning. Logical deduction told me that the wipes were the likely culprit. Sure enough, 99% of the time the patient would improve when the wet wipe was discontinued and good old soap and water was reintroduced. 

Up until now, it was unknown exactly what caused wet wipes and baby wipes to be skin irritating. Some people will use the wet and baby wipes without complication; after all, everyone has different allergens and skin types. However, some develop severe allergic reactions after using such products. 

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic singled out one common chemical, methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI), in four patients with horrible genital and anal reactions to wet wipes. MCI is a preservative that has been used in many common brands of wet wipes since the 1980‘s.  It mainly gained popularity because it has antimicrobial effects in very low concentrations.

  

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Some people have never thought of contributing their skin irritations to their use of wet wipes. In fact, many thought that the wet wipe would better clean, aid in healing, etc.. For example, one of the observed patients from the study had been suffering with anal irritation for 20 years. He thought that the wet wipe would aid in healing his skin lesions. Little did he know that it was the very culprit. When he stopped using his normal Cottonelle moist wipes, which contain MCI, the problem cleared up.  Another patient, a 63-year-old woman, had severe pruritus and irritation of her genital area for over a year. She had seen multiple dermatologists and received multiple different treatments, including corticosteroids, before entering the study. Six weeks after entering the study and discontinuing her regular use of Cottonelle wipes, she had a 95% improvement.  The other two patient stories similarly shared the theme- skin irritations that were not healing with traditional treatment, use of wet wipes, and healing after discontinuing wet wipe usage. 

MCI, is well documented as an allergen in Europe. In fact, Europe restricted the use of MCI because of the increased sensitivity they were seeing. The sensitivity in America is scarcely documented. A 2006 study by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group reported a prevalence of MCI contact allergy as only 2.8%.  This low representation might be due to under reporting, as patients and doctors have not previously looked at it, or their wet wipes, as a specific allergen until this study.  Remember… one of the patients in the study suffered for 20 years. He and his doctor(s) had no idea that the wet wipe could have possibly been the culprit!

While existing data for the United States shows that the likeliness of having an allergic reaction or severe skin irritation due to MCI appears to be relatively small, it is important that the public be aware of the MCI and it’s skin irritating side effects. 

My Two Cents:

My advice would be to peruse the labels of adult wet wipes and baby wipes. Look for a product that does not contain MCI. The fewer preservatives, the less likely an allergic reaction or skin irritation will be. I personally use an organic and chemical detergent free wipe on my girls. Websites like- Green Options, Amazon.com and Organically Hatched are great sources for those that have limited product availability locally.
 

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  1. good write :)

  2. ew.. the pictures were poitively gruesome. i haven’t used wet wipes in ages. and i am not going to start anytime soon after reading this article. thanks for raising the awareness.

  3. The more chemicals we expose the kids too the more problems they may have with allergies.

  4. Great information. I too found that sometimes when my patients suffered from rash that stopping the use of wipes quickly corrected the problem.
    Good write.

  5. I was using playtex but decided to try this since it is cheaper, what a big mistake. I used these mostly after a bowel movement for that extra clean feel. I started having some irritation but thought nothing of it and it got worse. I started having these very painful tears/fissures in that area that will heal after 2 or 3 days but will always come back. It will never completely heal. It never occur to me that these wipes were the cause. I continue to use these wipes and continue to have the problem for almost 2 years. I was so scared at one point that it might be STD or something even worse but test results were all negative. I started doing research online and a lot of women have this problem and most of the doctors say it might be something they are allergic to. I tried changing detergent, softener, and etc. When nothing worked, I stop using these wipes and the fissure went away. I can’t believe these wipes can cause such horrible problem but after stopping, the fissure never came back.

  6. I am a guy and have been using baby wipes for almost 8 years steady now. I got hooked on that extra clean feeling you cannot get from paper alone. Needless to say over the past 2 years i started developing these tiny tears and sometimes fissures on the soft tissue area that i was using the wipes on. After reading the last post i just realsed that the wipes might be the culprit. I saw a butt specialist and he told me that this can occur from over cleaning yet he mentioned nothing about the wipes or ingrediants in the wipes that might be causing this very problem…I will test this theory out and use only toilet paper for the next 2 weeks and see if indeed the culprit might be the baby wipes. I use Cottonelle always…

  7. I used Cottonelle for a few years and developed a horrible, itchy irritation on and around my anus. The constant scratching caused bleeding. I saw a dermatologist who diagnosed it as psoriasis. The medicine he gave me did help somewhat but it wasn’t until I stopped using those evil Cottonelle wipes that the irritation completely disappeared. I feel like it’s my duty to hang around the pharmacy and grocery store to warn people that are buying Cottonelle of the irritation it can cause. I even have pictures that I took on my Blackberry that I can show as evidence. Lol! Just joking. I am so happy that I finally realized it was the Cottonelle causing the problem. The worst part is I kept using the damn things thinking they would help keep the area clean.

  8. I just wanted to say thank you to the other people who have commented on their problems. Without them, I would still be searching for the right doctor or the right medication to fix my problem! I used Huggies Natural baby wipes and have all the same issues. . . tears and fissures in all areas. I have used many different prescribed creams as well as taken oral medication for Herpes, which it wasn’t. My skin is significantly better and it has only been 4 days! I wonder if there is baby wipe at the organic store that doesn’t contain the preservative that is in the rest of them???

  9. I’ve used Cottonelle for many, many years. Within the past year I developed a terribly itchy rash, with peeling skin. I’ve had mild hemorrhoids for years & thought that it was taking a turn for the worse, and was responsible for the rash. I got surgery to try to alleviate the situation. The rash cleared up, but only for about a week (hint: during that time, directly after the surgery, I was hardly going to the bathroom). After the return of the rash, I went to a dermatologist. He had me discontinue all my present practices, including Cottonelle wipes. The rash went away in a matter of days! To be sure, I tried to re-introduce the wipes, & sure enough, the rash returned. Something about their formula had to have changed, & now I can’t tolerate them.

  10. Can I ask you guys what you used to heal the rash???? Its horrible and yes I have also been using these whipes!!! Man o man I have never felt pain so bad!!!! Aloe gel maybe? Or cornstarch powder????? HELP

  11. I suffered for many many years with this horrible rash, tears and bleeding that was so bad and downright scary that I really didn’t know what to do. One doctor literally was so disturbed at inspecting my anus that she gasped in horror. It was insanely bad. I tried all sorts of creams, tucks, whatever and everything. Nothing worked. Of course, I felt that keeping the area clean was the right thing to do and the wipes were there all along. I came across the mayo clinic study in 2010 and immediately stopped using the wipes all together. The rash cleared up 100% and all the other realted side effects disappeared as well. Turns out my son was also alergic and had no idea either. There really should be a warning or something.

    Hopefully others find and read this and get help.

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