According to the 2007 Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) analysis of hidden ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, 95% of baby wipes might be potentially contaminated with dangerous chemicals. In other words, 95% of baby wipes contain ingredients that have the potential to be contaminated and thus have hidden ingredients, in that the contamination itself essentially becomes an ingredient that is not disclosed.
These hidden ingredients, which include impurities, contaminants, and byproducts of manufacturing processes can occur in several ways. First, they 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 the blend or mixture and the law does not require the disclosure of the blend/mixture. Forth, the product’s ingredients can break down and form a contaminant. In this post, we will focus on the first three types of hidden ingredients.
Unfortunately, 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!
Here are some examples of hidden ingredients to watch out for when buying baby wipes.
Formaldehyde, one of the 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 has given it the highest (i.e. worst) score for its negative health impact. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are associated with widespread allergic contact dermatitis.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, allergic contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that develops on the skin as a result of allergic reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis usually develops a few hours after the allergen (i.e. the substance to which the person is allergic) touches the skin and causes symptoms. The symptoms of exposure to formaldehyde may include the following:
- “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 releases 100 ppm, way above the amount needed to cause allergic contact dermatitis.
Unfortunately, if you are trying to avoid formaldehyde, one of the hidden ingredients, you won’t find it listed as an ingredient. Instead, look for these formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
- Diazolidinyl Urea
- DMDM Hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl Urea
- Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin
- Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
- 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (Bronopol)
- Polyoxymethylene Urea
- 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1,3 Dioxane
When I first did a study of the baby wipes industry in 2013, two brands – Kirkland Signature™ Baby Wipes and 365 Everyday Value® Wipes contained formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. A year later the formaldehyde preservatives were replaced with much safer preservatives. Coincidence? I’d like to think that our consumer pressure had to do something with it.
Unfortunately, in 2018 I found a baby wipes brand that contains a formaldehyde-releasing preservative. Please read about the brand here.
Hydroquinone, one of the hidden ingredients in baby wipes
Tocopheryl Acetate is a chemical compound that consists of acetic acid and tocopherol (vitamin E). Overall, both Tocopherol and Tocopheryl Acetate are beneficial for the skin as they have strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, both Tocopherol and Tocopheryl Acetate are often produced synthetically using hydroquinone. If a manufacturer does not clean up a product, traces of hydroquinone will remain in the final product.
Hydroquinone is not currently recognized as a carcinogen; however, there is emerging evidence of its carcinogenic properties. In any event, it is an allergen, skin toxicant, and has been linked with other non-reproductive organs toxicity. There is no sure way to know if a product is contaminated with hydroquinone unless the manufacturer provides all the necessary information.
In my comparative study of about 40 baby wipes, I found that most baby wipes have some type of vitamin E, which, by its nature, may be contaminated. I penalized those brands by giving them lower ratings. I wish I did not have to and they provided more transparency around it. I hope someday they will.
Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane are hidden ingredients in baby wipes
To begin with, most manufacturers use harsh petrochemical raw materials. To make them less irritating to skin, a process known as ethoxylation is used in which ethylene oxide is added. As a result, traces of unreacted ethylene oxide might be left in the final product. Moreover, 1,4-dioxane gets created during the ethoxylation process. Unless a manufacturer uses a vacuum-stripping method to get rid of 1,4-dioxane, the dangerous chemical will remain in the baby wipes.
Ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are carcinogens and, thus, regular application of baby wipes containing them may increase the risk of cancer for babies down the road. According to the EWG, the presence of 1,4-dioxane in baby wipes is of special concern because it can be absorbed through the skin in toxic amounts. In addition, both ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane are potent skin irritants.
Here are the examples of ingredients I saw in baby wipes, which may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane:
- Bis-PEG/PPG-16/16 PEG/PPG-16/16 Dimethicone
- Potassium Laureth Phosphate
- Polysorbate 20
- PEG-75 Lanolin
You can see a full list of chemicals derived with ethylene oxide here. Again, since there is no way of knowing for sure (short of testing the wipes as they are used), out of an abundance of caution, I penalized baby wipes brands that use ethoxylated ingredients.
Phthalates are 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. Most companies do not disclose fragrance ingredients to US consumers despite the fact that a lot of people have allergies to fragrance. According to EWG, fragrance mixes often contain diethyl phthalate, which is associated with hormone disruption. Fragrance mixes have been associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and potential effects on the reproductive system. EWG has given fragrance a rating of 8 on scale of 0 to 10 with 0 having no adverse health impact.
Luckily, baby wipes manufacturers are catching on and very few brands contain fragrance. Find out which baby wipes still contain fragrance in the Baby Wipes Rating List.
This concludes our post about the worst hidden ingredients in baby wipes such as formaldehyde, hydroquinone, ethylene oxide, 1,4-dioxane, and phthalates. Buyer beware of hidden ingredients!
You do not have to be overwhelmed! You can choose the best baby wipes for your baby on the go.
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