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The US law requires that manufacturers disclose most ingredients in baby wipes. But in practice, they often contain undisclosed ingredients. Today you will learn about the worst hidden ingredients in baby wipes, including cloth ingredients, formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, and phthalates, so you can make informed decisions. It is important to read the ingredients and call manufacturers for the latest information because they make changes quite often, and usually without a lot of fanfare.
Why You Should Avoid Hidden Ingredients in Baby Wipes
Even if you have a brand with organic ingredients you are comfortable with, watch the ingredients like a hawk, especially if your child reacts differently to the same brand of wipes you have been using. Babies are small and vulnerable and cannot tell us if their skin hurts after wipes. They are also more susceptible than adults to chemicals, many of which can be absorbed through the skin directly into their bloodstream. That is why I believe we need to be extra careful with baby products. Even the best baby wipes made with certified organic ingredients can have flaws.
Hidden Ingredients in Best Baby Wipes
What are the cloth wet wipes made of?
All wet wipes are made of some type of cloth. Over the years, I have contacted more than 40 baby wipes companies and asked them what their baby wipes cloths are made of. It is not easy to get information about the composition of the cloth. Unfortunately, the law does not oblige companies to disclose the components of the cloth. However, the make-up of the cloth is important because it comes in direct contact with the skin. Thus, the cloths are one of the hidden ingredients in baby wipes.
Components of wet wipes cloth
Luckily, a lot of companies do disclose their materials voluntarily. My survey showed that normally the cloth is made of viscose, polyester or polypropylene or a blend of two or all three of these.
Unfortunately, this is about all the companies will disclose. Polypropylene is plastic. Companies rarely disclose the composition of the plastic. Polyester can be anything. And viscose is derived from wood pulp. The processing of wood pulp into a fiber can involve a lot of harsh chemicals. None of them seem to be good enough to rub against the gentle baby skin. All of them consist of hidden ingredients.
Some makers of what I consider to be the best baby wipes have started using cotton, and even organic cotton. That’s a big improvement. In my Baby Wipes Rating List, the cloth is part of my rating methodology. It can help you decide what wipes to use on your baby, too. I encourage you to contact companies and ask them about the cloth they use. If they use cotton, ask them if it is organic. I wholeheartedly believe that the more of us ask questions and demand transparency, the safer baby wipes we are going to have. As noted below, I have seen that happen already.
What are some other hidden ingredients in baby wipes?
The other hidden ingredients include impurities, contaminants, and byproducts of the processes that manufacture cloth moisturizers. In general, US law requires the disclosure of ingredients used to moisten the cloth, but some impurities can filter into the solution, as follows.
First, contaminants can occur as part of the manufacturing process. Second, they can be released when a product is in a bottle or other type of package by design. Third, a hidden ingredient can be a part of a blend or mixture and the law does not require the disclosure of the blend/mixture.
Sadly, the FDA does not require these types of hidden ingredients to be disclosed on product labels and, thus, consumers do not know if their products are contaminated. One way to be certain that you are not buying a contaminated product is to avoid products with ingredients that may be potentially contaminated or designed to release another substance. That’s where this blog comes in handy! I recommend not only the best baby wipes but also the best personal care, skincare, and beauty products. I hope you will sign up to my weekly email and have a look around.
Here we will talk about these undisclosed ingredients in wet wipes. This will help you answer the question: “Are these baby wipes safe?”
Formaldehyde as one of hidden ingredients in baby wipes
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has recognized formaldehyde as a carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has defined formaldehyde as “carcinogenic to humans.”
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database has given it the highest score (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst) for its negative health impact. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are associated with widespread allergic contact dermatitis.
Moreover, the American Contact Dermatitis Society named formaldehyde as the Allergen of the Year for 2015 (source). Formaldehyde is one reason for widespread allergic contact dermatitis. It usually develops a few hours after the allergen (i.e., the substance to which the person is allergic) touches the skin and causes symptoms. Learn how to protect yourself from formaldehyde in products.
Symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde
You don’t want formaldehyde to be one of the hidden ingredients in the baby wipes. Can you imagine your precious baby going through any of the symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde? They may include:
- Itchy, swollen, and red skin or dry and bumpy skin.
- Blisters may develop if the reaction is more severe.
- Blisters may break, leaving crusts and scales.
- Skin may later flake and crack.
- With long-term exposure to an allergen, the skin becomes thick, red, and scaly.
- Over time, the skin can darken and become leathery.
Formaldehyde is a powerful chemical and a concentration of 30 ppm is enough to evoke an allergic reaction. Some formaldehyde-releasing preservatives release a higher amount. For example, quartenium-15 may release over 100 ppm, way above the amount needed to cause allergic contact dermatitis (source).
Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives as ingredients of baby wipes
Unfortunately, if you are trying to avoid formaldehyde, one of the hidden ingredients, you won’t find it listed as an ingredient. Instead, watch out for these:
- Diazolidinyl Urea
- DMDM Hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
- 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (Bronopol)
- Polyoxymethylene Urea
- 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1,3 Dioxane
The good and the bad news about formaldehyde in wet wipes
When I first surveyed the baby wipes industry in 2013, two brands – Kirkland Signature™ Baby Wipes and 365 Everyday Value® Wipes – contained formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. A year after I published a well-received post, some safer preservatives took place of the formaldehyde-releasing ones. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’d like to think that our consumer pressure had something to do with it.
In my Baby Wipes Rating List, you won’t find any baby wipes with formaldehyde-releasing hidden ingredients. However, that does not mean that formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are not in use anymore. Please be careful and read the ingredients when you are looking for the best baby wipes.
The good news is that there are safer preservatives than formaldehyde-releasors, such as sodium benzoate. By the way, it is not true that sodium benzoate in combination with citric acid may be harmful. You can learn more about that in the Sodium Benzoate and Citric Acid Myth blog post. That’s good news because it is very challenging to find baby wipes without citric acid, which is used in very tiny amounts to adjust the pH.
However, even when there are no formaldehyde-releasing preservatives on the product label, there may still be formaldehyde in the product. Thus, for this 2019 study conducted by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS), researchers tested some popular baby wipes. They discovered that almost a quarter of the tested wipes released formaldehyde, although they seemed to have no formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. To see which wipes tested positive for formaldehyde, you can buy the full study report (as I did). Alternatively, in my Baby Wipes Rating List I talk about the wipes tested by the ACDS that are included in my list.
Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane in baby wipes
Unfortunately, most manufacturers use harsh petrochemicals as raw materials to make their baby wipes. To make these chemicals less irritating to the skin, they use the process of ethoxylation in which they add ethylene oxide. The traces of unreacted ethylene oxide might remain in the final product and will not show up as a listed ingredient, which makes it one of the hidden ingredients.
Moreover, the process of ethoxylation creates a byproduct called 1,4-dioxane — really nasty stuff. Again, you won’t find 1,4-dioxane listed as an ingredient. The law treats it as a contaminant and not an ingredient that needs to be disclosed. Manufacturers can use a vacuum-stripping method to get rid of 1,4-dioxane, but if they don’t, the dangerous chemical can remain in the baby wipes.
Both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane have been classified as carcinogens.
Avoid baby wipes with the following listed ingredients!
Here are examples of ingredients of the wipes that may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and/or 1,4-dioxane. Note that you can find polysorbate 20 even in baby wipes touted as the best baby wipes.
- Bis-PEG/PPG-16/16 PEG/PPG-16/16 Dimethicone
- Potassium Laureth Phosphate
- Polysorbate 20
- PEG-75 Lanolin
How do you spot ethoxylated ingredients in baby wipes?
Watch out for ingredients that contain the following:
Words beginning with:
Words ending in:
There is no way of knowing for sure whether these dangerous hidden ingredients are present in a wet wipe (short of testing the wet wipes in use). Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, I penalized baby wipes brands that use ethoxylated ingredients in my Baby Wipes Rating List.
Phthalates as hidden ingredients
You won’t find the word phthalates listed as one of the ingredients of baby wipes. However, you might find the word fragrance or perfume or parfum, which is a mixture of hidden ingredients in baby wipes.
Phthalates as part of fragrance in baby wipes
Most companies do not disclose fragrance ingredients to US consumers even though a lot of people have allergies to fragrance. According to EWG, fragrance mixes often contain diethyl phthalate associated with hormone disruption. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, and respiratory distress. The EWG has given fragrance a rating of 8 (source).
Luckily, baby wipes manufacturers are catching on and very few brands contain fragrance. You can find out which baby wipes still contain fragrance in the Baby Wipes Rating List.
Some so-called best baby wipes companies claim that they use “natural” fragrance. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? This can be tricky. First of all, there is no legal definition for the word “natural,” and “natural” does not equal “safe.” (Remember, crude oil is also natural.) In addition, if the company does not disclose a full list of ingredients in their natural fragrance, it is best to use fragrance-free baby wipes.
By the way, even essential oils are not so benign, and some people can still have sensitivity to them. I like when baby wipes manufacturers use extracts such as pyrus malus (apple) fruit extract instead of essential oils. You can learn more about that and why it might be best to choose essential oil-free baby wipes in the blog post called Is Natural Fragrance Safe?
The difference between fragrance-free and unscented baby wipes
Actually, fragrance-free baby wipes are safer than unscented wipes! What is the difference? According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Product Standards, there is a subtle difference. The unscented claim means that the product may contain chemicals that mask the smell or odor of other ingredients of baby wipes. Fragrance-free means there no masking chemicals in the wipes, and, thus, potentially no hidden ingredients. See the difference? So fragrance-free is what you want to look for. To learn more surprising information about this, please read my post about natural fragrance.
Water Wipes and grapefruit seed extract
You might have heard about the Water Wipes brand. Some people believe that they are the best baby wipes. In fact, they claim to be the purest baby wipes. Why? Their claim to fame is that the water wipes ingredients are nothing else but 99% water and citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract.
Sounds good? Not so fast! I questioned them a lot about citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract. I wrote about my investigation in a post. As a result, they now disclose a previously hidden ingredient in citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract. Please read the full story in my WaterWipes baby wipes post.
In fact, there might be other baby wipes that contain citrus grandis (grapefruit) seed extract as a preservative. Please read the ingredients and consider avoiding it so you do not run the risk of another hidden ingredient in the wipes you use on your child.
Conclusion on choosing the best baby wipes
This concludes our discussion about the worst hidden ingredients in baby wipes, such as cloth ingredients, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, and phthalates. Please read the ingredients, contact companies, and ask questions. Do not rely on marketing claims and advertisements.
And if you are busy, choose the best baby wipes for your baby with the help of my latest Baby Wipes Rating List which I update annually so as to keep abreast of the latest developments. So now, you can choose baby wipes that suit your preferences, whether they contain propylene glycol, tocopheryl acetate, or decyl glucoside. We rated all of the most popular baby wipes, including Pampers, Huggies, and Jackson Reece wet wipes. You can see which wipes are rated on the Baby Wipes Rating List e-book page.
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