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Ingredients in Baby Wipes: Common Chemicals and Sulfates

Ingredients in Baby Wipes

Have you actually looked into the ingredients in baby wipes?

We were shocked to find out that even the baby wipes from reputable companies have harmful ingredients in them. Yes, even the baby wipes marketed as “sensitive” or “all-natural”!

For regular parents, reading labels isn’t easy but it’s something that must be done. Especially since babies use baby wipes a whole LOT.

We’ve written a comprehensive list of the most common ingredients in baby wipes. We’ve ALSO included possible health concerns, along with safer ingredients to consider for your baby.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Harmful Ingredients to Avoid in Baby Wipes

Fragrance

Fragrance

You will find fragrance in most baby wipes. Sometimes it’s listed as parfum or “perfume”.

Fragrance is what makes baby wipes smell good. So why is it problematic?

Most fragrance mixes contain phthalates. Phthalates are common ingredients found in many consumer products. This includes personal care, toys, plastic food packaging, baby medicines, etc.

The following health concerns are linked to phthalates:

  • Endocrine disruption
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Asthma triggers

Depending on the blend of ingredients used, fragrance may contain neurotoxins and carcinogens.

What’s worse is that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose their fragrance ingredients. That’s why they use a generic term such as “fragrance” to protect trade secrets.

As such, the best baby wipes are fragrance-free. This doesn’t mean the baby wipes are 100% scent-free. Instead, the baby wipes contain other ingredients, such as essential oils, instead of chemicals.

On that note, be wary of “unscented” baby wipes. They’re not the same as fragrance-free baby wipes. Instead, it means manufacturers used some fragrance-masking ingredients to cover the smell of the baby wipes.

In many cases, these fragrance-masking ingredients contain phthalates, which is what you’re trying to avoid.

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives (FRPs) are in many personal care products. In particular, you’ll find these in shampoos, liquid baby soaps, nail polish, and color cosmetics.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers formaldehyde as a carcinogen. There are research studies linking formaldehyde to leukemia, tumor formation, and central nervous system damage.

Formaldehyde is also linked to a baby’s skin irritations and allergic reactions, such as contact dermatitis. In fact, it was declared as the 2015 American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) Contact Allergen of the Year. Not a very flattering title to have!

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also gave formaldehyde its highest score of 10. You might think this is good, but it’s the opposite. It means it’s categorized as one of the worst ingredients.

To find formaldehyde in your baby products, look for the following ingredients on the label:

  • 1,3-Dimethylol-5,5-Dimethylhydantoin (DMDM Hydantoin)
  • 2-Bromo-2-Nitropropane-1,3-Diol (Bronopol)
  • 5-Bromo-5-Nitro-1,3-Dioxane (Bronidox)
  • Benzylhemiformal
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Glyoxal
  • Imidazolidinyl Urea
  • Methenamine
  • Polyoxymethylene Urea
  • Quaternium-15
  • Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate
  • Tosylamide/Formaldehyde Resin

Parabens

Parabens

Parabens are a type of preservative that prevents the growth of microbes (e.g. bacteria and fungus). They’re found in lotions, shampoos, conditioners, facial cleansers, and so on.

Parabens are linked to endocrine disruption, hormonal function disruption, reproductive toxicity, and cancer. It can also cause a baby’s skin irritations, especially since children have sensitive skin.

To AVOID parabens, some baby wipes brands label their baby wipes as paraben-free. If you want to be safer, choose organic baby wipes manufacturers. These companies use safer ingredients as an alternative to parabens.

Some companies don’t use preservatives at all (i.e. preservatives-free). This means your baby wipes will have a shorter shelf life. But let’s be real—you’ll be going through several baby wipes per day.

On the label, watch out for anything that ends in “-paraben”.

Phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that limits bacterial growth. You can find this in various products, such as make-up, hair spray, soaps, deodorant, etc.

This colorless, oily liquid is sometimes used as an alternative to parabens. However, it doesn’t mean it’s safe, especially not for your baby!

Phenoxyethanol can trigger allergic reactions on your baby when exposed to their skin. This includes eczema, hives, and anaphylaxis.

For infants, it can have effects on the nervous system. Besides that, this preservative has been linked to neurotoxicity and lung and skin irritations.

The good news is that this ingredient is pretty easy to spot. Look for the word itself. Or any word or phrase that contains “phenoxy”.

Sometimes, it can also appear as:

  • Beta-Hydroxyethyl Phenyl Ether
  • Dowanol
  • Ethylene Glycol Monophenyl Ether
  • Euxyl K® 400
  • PhE
  • Rose Ether

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

PEG is a petroleum-based ingredient widely used in cosmetics.

Instead of being an active ingredient, PEG is combined with other chemicals, such as glycol. You can find these mixtures in moisturizers, sunscreens, and creams.

PEG is also a penetration enhancer. This means it helps your skin absorb the ingredients better. So it absorbs not only the good ones but also the bad ingredients harmful for your baby.

Another thing is that baby wipes containing PEG can penetrate through damaged skin (e.g. skin with nappy rash). So, PEG might worsen your baby’s skin condition due to the damaged barriers.

However, compared to other ingredients, PEG is an overall low-hazard ingredient.

So, What Makes It Dangerous?

During the manufacturing stage, PEG can be contaminated with Ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

Ethylene oxide is a carcinogen. It causes developmental toxicity and endocrine disruption. It can be found in car exhausts and cigarette smoke.

Studies link Ethylene oxide to breast cancer, peritoneal cancer, and leukemia. You can read on an Ethylene oxide study here.

1,4-dioxane is classified by the IARC under Group 2A (possibly carcinogenic to humans). It’s possible to remove this during the manufacturing stage, but we’ll never know for sure.

As such, avoid baby wipes with PEG as one of their ingredients. It’s usually listed as PEG, followed by a number, e.g. PEG-8.

In some cases, it’s hidden under chemicals that end in “-eth”. This includes ceteareth and oleth.

Propylene Glycol (PG)

Propylene Glycol (PG)

Propylene Glycol (PG) is another petroleum-based ingredient found in skincare and food. However, you can also find it in antifreeze, floor wax, and paints.

As a humectant, Propylene Glycol ATTRACTS water. So it gives a moisturizing effect for the baby wipes. It’s also a penetration enhancer, which makes ingredients absorb faster into your skin.

For adults, it’s safe to use as long as you’re not allergic. However, for your baby, it’s a different story. It’s not a totally safe baby wipes ingredient.

Children under the age of 4 don’t have the ability to eliminate harsh ingredients from their bodies. This is because their skin is still developing.

As such, PG may also cause skin irritation and allergic reactions for babies. If your precious baby has eczema or any underlying skin condition, baby wipes containing PG could worsen their condition.

To find this in the label, look for words that end in “glycol”. Another word for this ingredient is 1,2-propanediol or 1,2-dihydroxypropane.

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium Benzoate

This ingredient is a synthetic preservative that has anti-fungal properties. It’s used in cosmetics and skin care, such as soaps, make-up, detergents, etc.

On its own, sodium benzoate is a salt of benzoic acid. Benzoic acid is naturally occurring in different fruits including cranberries, apples, and plums.

The biggest health concern is benzene, which is a known carcinogen. Combining this ingredient with citric acid or ascorbic acid results in benzene.

In particular, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that some soft drinks contain benzene. However, there aren’t enough studies that pinpoint the long-term effects of benzene in personal and cosmetics care.

Additionally, there are a few studies that link sodium benzoate to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and the production of free radicals.

Free radicals refer to species that damage cellular components in our body, such as DNA, proteins, cell membranes, etc.

Right now, there is limited evidence that this preservative is harmful. So instead, it’s an ingredient you should try to avoid for your baby.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) / Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

Both SLS and SLES are surfactants in baby wipes. These ingredients act like detergents by wetting or emulsifying surfaces to help with cleaning.

Because of their cleaning ability, SLS and SLES can be harsh when it comes to contact with children’s skin. These ingredients may trigger skin complications, such as dermatitis, eczema, or rashes.

Besides skin irritation, it can also irritate the eyes, mouth, and lungs of your baby. For babies with sensitive skin, it may cause dizziness and headaches.

During the manufacturing process, there’s a chance that SLES can be contaminated with Ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane.

However, there is no evidence that SLS/SLES is directly linked to cancer. And the good news is that in most household products, the concentration amount is usually small.

Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (IPBC)

Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (IPBC)

IPBCs are water-based preservatives that prevent bacterial growth. It’s a white or off-white powder containing iodine.

For years, it’s been used in paints, inks, and cement. Then recently, it’s included in personal and cosmetics care. This includes make-up removers, diaper creams, rash creams, moisturizers, etc.

The main health concern with IPBC is contact dermatitis. Symptoms you should check for your baby include redness, itching, and swelling.

Another is that baby wipes containing IPBC may have adverse effects on the immune system. It’s worth noting that some countries restrict the use of this ingredient in cosmetics.

For instance, in New Zealand, IPBC cannot be used for children under 3 years old. In Japan, the Standards for Cosmetics put a concentration limit on certain cosmetic items.

On top of that, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) acknowledged the potential toxicity of IPBC. The CIR thereby limited the concentration to less than or equal to 0.1%.

Look out for the following in the label:

  • IBP or IPBC
  • Butyl-3-iodo-2-propynylcarbamate
  • Carbamic acid
  • Glycacil®
  • Germall®Plus
  • IODOCARB®
  • Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

Methylisothiazolinone (MIT)

MITs are preservatives commonly found in personal care, particularly liquid ones. Besides baby wipes, look out for your baby’s shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc.

The most concerning point is allergic dermatitis. In fact, it was declared as the most harmful allergen by the ACDS in 2013. There are studies that link MIT to lung toxicity when inhaled, as well as neurotoxicity.

Many big companies, such as Huggies, have stopped using MIT as their ingredients.

However, you should always check the list of ingredients before purchasing. Yes, even if they’re from the best baby wipes brands!

Triclosan

Triclosan

Triclosan and Triclocarban are preservatives that have anti-bacterial properties. You can find these ingredients in soaps, detergents, toothpaste, etc.

Triclosan has been linked to endocrine disruption. This could lead to hormone disruption, obesity, diabetes, and so on. If triclosan lingers on the skin, it could also trigger allergic reactions.

Using anti-bacterial baby wipes may also create triclosan-resistant bacteria.

What Does This Mean?

It means that the bacteria protect themselves, once they come into contact with antibiotics or anti-bacterial baby wipes. During the process, the bacteria mutate to avoid being killed by the antibiotic.

If you don’t want to give up anti-bacterial baby wipes, consider a safer alternative: Grapefruit seed extract.

Grapefruit seed extract (GSE) is a natural preservative that has anti-bacterial, anti-microbial properties. Grapefruit seed extract helps extend the shelf life of baby wipes for up to 2 YEARS.

Polysorbate 20

Polysorbate 20

You can find Polysorbate 20 in skin care products as it helps improve texture and scent. In its original form, it’s a pretty harmless product with a grade of 3 as rated by the EWG.

However, this ingredient is often treated with Ethylene oxide during the manufacturing process of baby wipes.

And one of the by-products is 1,4-dioxane, a potential carcinogen, which can penetrate into the skin. This can trigger skin allergies. It has also been linked to organ system toxicity.

What’s also worrying is that the FDA doesn’t require companies to list 1,4-dioxane in the product labels. Why? Because it’s not an ingredient that’s directly added. Instead, it’s a contaminant produced as a by-product.

So, there’s no certain way for us to know if the baby wipes we’re using contain 1,4-dioxane. The best we can do is to avoid ingredients linked to this chemical, such as PEG.

Non-Toxic Baby Wipes Ingredients

Non-Toxic Ingredients

There are A LOT of harsh ingredients in baby wipes.

But don’t worry.

The good news is that there are ingredients that are generally “safe”. Yes, even for babies who have extra-sensitive skin.

The best baby wipes will contain the following non-toxic ingredients:

  • Water/Aqua
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract (Citrus Grandis Seed Extract)
  • Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract
  • Lonicera Caprifolium (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract
  • Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract
  • Silver Dihydrogen Citrate
  • Jojoba Oil
  • Glycerin

Why the Cloth in Baby Wipes Matter

Besides the ingredients in baby wipes, you should also take a closer look at what the baby wipes are made of, specifically the material of the cloth. The cloth may also TRIGGER nappy rashes or allergic reactions on your baby.

Non-woven fabric is the cloth material used in disposable baby wipes. These fabrics include cotton, rayon, polyester, viscose, and so on.

It’s difficult to say what exact blend of materials companies use in their baby wipes, as they don’t disclose this type of information.

What’s problematic is that polyester and polypropylene are both types of plastics. That’s not something you want to touch your baby’s skin every day.

Another one is viscose. Viscose is made from tree wood pulp, such as beech, pine, or bamboo.

In the process of turning wood pulp into a fiber, harsh chemicals might’ve been added.

The best type of cloth is cotton. Some brands also have organic cotton. For babies who are particularly sensitive, consider reusable cloth wipes or making your own baby wipes.

Otherwise, avoiding the ingredients mentioned above should be more than enough.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

There are many harsh ingredients in baby wipes. That’s why as a parent, it’s important to be extra vigilant about these things.

To buy the best baby wipes, remember not to immediately believe what you see on the packaging.

Baby wipes marked as “sensitive” or “natural” may contain hidden ingredients. Even natural baby wipes could cause allergies, skin irritations, and other health concerns.

Always, always read the label to make the right purchase for you and your baby. You can also check websites such as EWG to see if the baby wipes contain any toxic ingredients.


Changelog:

July 23, 2021 – updated interlinking, updated external links

About the author

A few years ago, Angelica found out about all the plastic and toxic ingredients that got into most children’s products. And this worried her to no end. Because of this, she began to research what the best ingredients and materials were for children and made it her mission to share this information with other mothers.