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The Kid’s Doctor: Could your child be allergic to baby wipes?

Most parents with young children find themselves wiping their children’s faces several times a day, at the minimum. In the “olden days,” I remember my own mother swabbing my cheeks with a bit of spit on her finger when there was nothing else available. (I swore I’d never do that myself, but, of course, never say never!)

Today, most parents have the luxury of using a wet wipe/baby wipe rather than Mom’s spit or a wet washcloth in a plastic bag.

This may not be the perfect solution, however. There have been several reports of an allergic contact rash developing in some children who’ve had their faces cleaned with wet wipes. And the problem may not be confined to kids. It seems people of all ages are now using wet wipes to wash their hands and faces. They travel well and are being heavily marketed for their convenience.

It seems that the culprit in these new cases is methylisothiazolinone (MI) a chemical found in certain brands of wet wipes. Previously, baby wipes contained a lower percentage of MI, but in recent times the concentration of MI has increased by more than 25 times, as it was not thought to cause sensitization.

This small study of eight children, and another study from Australia also showed that once the children stopped using the wipes, the “mystery” rash resolved.

The American Contact Dermatitis Society has named the chemical MI the contact allergen of the year. Somewhat like being named “most likely to succeed.”

Doctors and parents need to be on the lookout for unusual rashes that appear to be red, eczematous and sometimes impetiginous, that don’t resolve with usual treatment. It might be worth looking at what kinds of wipes your family is using and if they contain the chemical MI – which may also be found in some soaps and shampoos.

In the study, all of the patients had rapid resolution of their rash, within about two days, after discontinuing the use of wipes. Most of the children had experienced symptoms for one to 12 months before being appropriately diagnosed.