Are Baby Wipes Causing Diaper Rashes?

If your baby has a stubborn rash, a new study says it could be the wipes.If your baby has a stubborn rash, a new study says it could be the wipes.Sometimes a news story feels like it could've been written at my house, or in this case, in our nursery. When I read the headline of the NBC news website declaring, "Baby wipes causing itchy, scaly rashes in some babies," I just nodded. Been there!

My oldest daughter is now 4, but when she was a baby in Italy, she had such a recurring rash problem that our European pediatrician used to write prescriptions for three different kinds of creams that we'd blend together before liberally applying with every diaper change. Even with that trilogy of anti-rash medicine plus a few prayers too, nothing seemed to work. Then we tried something truly Italian. We stopped using wipes and the rashes cleared up. It turns out we aren't the only ones.

According to the NBC report, the same thing happened in Connecticut when half a dozen kids were brought in to the UConn Health Center, all with various stubborn rashes, all clearing up the moment their parents stopped using wipes. So what's the connection? Researchers from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine have found that children with an allergy to methylisothiazolinone (MI) may have a terrible reaction to baby wipes, among other household items containing the chemical preservative (shampoos, lotions, etc.) It's surprising because wipes are such a big part of diaper culture, but researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center agree.

"I think this is a really important issue," said Dr. Robin Gehris, a clinical associate professor of dermatology and chief of pediatric dermatologic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, to NBC. "But when you tell a patient they shouldn't use moist wipes, they act like you have two heads. It's hard for people to imagine when something called hypoallergenic [could contain] things that could cause a problem."

Related: Q&A: What is contact dermatitis?

An allergy! I hadn't expected that. I'm a very fair skinned person with ridiculously sensitive skin, so I wasn't surprised when my children inherited this delicate feature. Plus, our Italian wipes weren't even the "sensitive" kind. (Buying baby stuff in Italy always reminded me of shopping at a convenience story, a Quickie Mart off the highway. There might be what you want, but not a huge selection and certainly nothing special. Oh, and it's expensive too.)

And I made another discovery. Italians don't really do wipes, so no wonder the selection was so meager there. In bidet territory, Italian parents simply remove a tiny pair of pants and rinse that baby right under the bathroom sink, or, of course, soak those little backsides in the bidet. Like a mini-bath. This is what all the daycare centers did too. Wipes were used sparingly, on the go or to clean off sticky fingers, but rarely for diaper changes.

So we stopped. We used plain water instead, and it worked wonders. The rash finally cleared up. This is what the doctors at the UConn center suggest too. Use a roll of plain paper towels with water to clean your baby's behind, they say.

Now we're in the States, so when we do use wipes, they're a very eco-friendly brand, promising to be sensitive to our current toddler's skin and the environment too. No rashes so far, but we know what to do if one comes up.

- By Charity Curley Mathews

For more common baby rashes and how to deal with them, visit BabyZone!

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