Eczema Friendly Baby Wipes? Ingredients to watch out for and practical alternatives

The myriad of baby wipe brands now available makes it hard for parents to choose the right product for their child at the best of times, but it’s even more difficult when you have a child with eczema. 

In this article, we look at what goes into baby wipes and help you to choose products which are less likely to aggravate your child’s eczema.  If ready-made brands prove unsuitable, we show you how easy it is to make your own eczema-friendly baby wipes using natural cleansers and moisturisers, as well as looking at alternative ways to keep your little ones fresh and clean.

Eczema Friendly Baby Wipes? Ingredients to watch out for and practical alternatives

When choosing baby wipes for a child with eczema, the important thing is what is left out, rather than what is put in to the wipe. Common ingredients which can trigger or aggravate eczema to watch for are parabens, MCI/MI, sodium benzoate and sorbates

When you’ve got a young family to clean up after, there’s nothing like the convenience of baby wipes.  Whether you’re wiping the remnants of lunch from your little one’s faces, cleaning bottoms, or removing goodness-knows-what from their inquisitive fingers, a baby wipe is the quick and easy solution to a myriad of parental problems.  However, as any parent of a child with eczema will know, things are rarely that simple.  All too often, the solution in which baby wipes are soaked can aggravate sensitive skin, causing flare-ups in the condition or a worsening of the eczema area.  Fortunately, the increasing prevalence of childhood eczema and allergies means that manufacturers are now producing baby wipes which can be used on children with sensitive skin and skin conditions like eczema. We look at which ingredients are likely to aggravate or even cause eczema and suggest practical, eczema-friendly alternatives.

What are baby wipes made from?

If you’re considering using baby wipes on your child with eczema you need to be aware of a potential reaction to both the fabric and the solution in which the fabric is soaked.

The fabric

When choosing baby wipes for sensitive skin, look for versions made with natural materials such as bamboo or wood pulp.  Most major brands are made from nylon or polyester though lots of supermarkets now stock lesser known brands which are made from natural products. Unfortunately, for a small number of children with eczema, these synthetic materials can cause a problem, though for a majority it is the fluid in which the fabric is soaked which their skin is unable to tolerate.

The fluid

Here’s the ingredients list from the label on Johnson’s Baby Extra Sensitive Wipes:

Aqua, Glycerin, Coco-Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate, Glyceryl Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Lauryl Glucoside, Polyglyceryl-2 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Citric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, p-Anisic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate.

And this from Simple Baby Moisturising Wipes:

Aqua, Phenoxyethanol, Paraffinum Liquidum, Carbomer, Benzoic Acid, Coco-Glucoside, Sodium Hydroxide, Dehydroacetic Acid, Disodium EDTA, Panthenol, Bisabolol, Pantolactone, Anthemis Nobilis Oil

Apart from being unpronounceable most of these ingredients go by at least 5 different names so while these two ingredients list look different they are actually remarkably similar. No wonder we’re confused! Put simply, most baby wipes are made mainly from water and the other ingredients act as moisturising agents and preservatives which help to stop the wipe from drying out. Other chemicals play a role in keeping the finished product to the right consistency and some act as cleaning agents or fragrance. Most of these chemicals are benign in spite of their scary sounding names, but some are known to either trigger allergic reactions or cause skin irritation in a small proportion of the population.

When choosing baby wipes for a child with eczema, the important thing is what is left out, rather than what is put in to the wipe.  Common ingredients which can trigger or aggravate eczema for are:

  • Parabens – These preservatives may cause contact dermatitis in people that are sensitive, and are currently being phased out of baby products sold in the EU. According to DermNet NZ, paraben sensitivity causes classic allergy contact dermatitis reactions. Whilst recent medical studies like this overview of parabens and allergic contact dermatitis have found that paraben sensitivity is relatively rare, this does not mean that they cannot cause eczema and we recommend taking care with paraben exposure, particularly with babies and toddlers aged 0-3. A recent 2021 medical study into the prevalence of atopic dermatitis in children aged 0-3 highly exposed to parabens found that ‘the prevalence of atopic dermatitis was significantly higher in children with high urinary concentrations of parabens than in those with low concentrations.
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone/methylisothiazolinone (also known as MCI and MI respectively) – Both of these preservatives are known to cause contact dermatitis. A medical study into contact dermatitis and methylisothiazolinine states that ‘MI is an important emerging allergen whose sensitization frequency is rising’. A 2016 clinical review, even called the significant increase in contact allergies caused by MI an ‘epidemic’. The publicity surrounding them is causing them to fall out of favour with the manufacturers.
  • Phenoxyethanol – Phenoxyethanol is another preservative known to cause skin irritation in a small proportion of the population. Although, given how often freshly wiped hands (and wipes themselves) end up in little one’s mouths, I find the fact that the EU has banned its use in products for use around the mouth and on lips rather more concerning. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, ‘infant oral exposure to phenoxyethanol can acutely affect nervous system function.’ This chemical has become increasing popular as manufacturers have reformulated products to avoid parabens and MCI/MI.
  • Sodium benzoate (aka benzoic acid) – According to a report published by the World Health Organisation, ‘the acute toxicity of benzoic acid and sodium
    benzoate in humans is low. However, both substances are known to cause contact dermatitis
    .’ If your little one‘s skin does react to a specific baby wipe brand, this ingredient is definitely on the list of possible culprits. As with phenoxyethanol, the chemical has become increasing popular as in products reformulated to avoid parabens and MCI/MI
  • Polysorbate and ceteareth – While these chemicals have a low risk of causing skin irritation themselves, they are at high risk of contaminants that are known to cause skin irritation.If in doubt, opt for the variety which is specially formulated for ‘sensitive skin’ as this will invariably be free from worst offenders of fragrance, parabens, MCI and alcohol which are more likely to irritate the skin. The EWG database is a great resource for checking ingredients and overall safety of a huge range of skincare products and includes a number of baby wipes brands.

Choosing baby wipes for children with eczema

If your child has eczema, it’s best to look at the brands which are specially formulated for sensitive skin as these will avoid the more irritating ingredients.  Look on the baby care aisle of any supermarket – there are certainly plenty of brands to try! It’s useful to know that The British Skin Foundation mark is only available to companies which support its work financially, so a brand which doesn’t have this mark may well be no worse for your baby’s skin than one which does.

Trial and error

Baby wipes affect children with eczema in different ways.  Some babies and children won’t react at all, while others will have a severe reaction.  Unfortunately, the only way to know whether baby wipes aggravate your child’s eczema is to try them out.  Of course, it’s best to be cautious when you’re testing baby wipes on your child.  Try using them on the hands first, then the face.  Leave bottom-wiping until last as it’s not so easy to spot an adverse reaction once your child’s nappy is back in place. If one brand of baby wipes doesn’t suit your child, cautiously introduce an alternative make.  You’ll probably have to try three or four different manufacturers before you find wipes which you can use with confidence.

What alternatives are there to baby wipes?

If baby wipes really do prove unsuitable, you have the option to make your own (surprisingly simple!) or to find alternative ways to keep your child clean. The obvious alternative to baby wipes is a pad of cotton wool (pleats, balls or even make-up removal pads are all effective) and some fresh, clean water.  If you’re going out, you can transport some warm water in a flask.

Another alternative which is growing in popularity is the washable wet wipe. You can buy DIY baby wipe kits made from natural fibres on the internet, and pre-soak them in your own home-made solution.  Not only are they more environmentally-friendly as they can be washed and reused rather than thrown away, you can rest assured that you know exactly what has gone into them.

How to make your own eczema friendly baby wipes

It takes a little effort but making your own wet wipes gives you complete control over the ingredients.

We like the method used by Wellness Mama who advises:

  • Cut a roll of paper towels in half using a sharp knife (you’ll need to use a brand that holds together well when wet like Bounty)
  • Accordion fold the wipes into an air-tight plastic lunch box or food take-away tub
  • Mix together 400ml cooled boiled water, one tablespoon pure aloe (check for preservatives), one tablespoon witch hazel, one tablespoon liquid soap (again check the ingredients), 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract, and one teaspoon of almond oil and stir. Add essential oils, if desired, although if your child is particularly sensitive, leave these out or use calendula or chamomile instead.
  • Pour over the paper towels and let them absorb the liquid for about five to 10 minutes.
  • Flip the container over to make sure wipes are well soaked.
  • Use within a week.

Tried and tested

We trialled four brands of fragrance-free baby wipes for sensitive skin on our two eczema-prone kids. While this comparison is not in any way scientific, we hope that our family’s experience will be useful to your family.

Eczema Friendly Baby Wipes? Ingredients to watch out for and practical alternatives

What’s your experience?

If you have tips and advice for parents of children with eczema, please do share them with us using this contact form.  Alternatively, please do join our discussion on Facebook.

Here at ScratchSleeves we don’t just share our experiences of bringing up an eczema child and favourite allergy friendly recipes, we also manufacturer and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult years in a range of colours. Visit www.ScratchSleeves.co.uk for more information.

Our Sources

An overview of parabens and allergic contact dermatitis. Farhaan Hafeez, Howard Maibach. Skin Therapy Lett. Jul-Aug 2013;18(5):5-7.

Increased Prevalence of Atopic Dermatitis in Children Aged 0–3 Years Highly Exposed to Parabens. Arafune, J., Tsujiguchi, H., Hara, A., Shimizu, Y., Hori, D., Nguyen, T., Suzuki, F., Hamagishi, T., Yamada, Y., Nakamura, H., Yoshikawa, T., Hayashi, K., Shibata, A., Fukutomi, Y., Ohya, Y., Yamamoto-Hanada, K., Muto, G., Hirota, R., Konoshita, T., Kambayashi, Y. and Nakamura, H., 2021. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 18(21), p.11657. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34770171/  [Accessed 8 March 2022].

Contact dermatitis to methylisothiazolinone. Scherrer, M., Rocha, V. and Andrade, A., 2015. Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia, [online] 90(6), pp.912-914. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4689087/ [Accessed 8 March 2022].

Dermatological Nursing – Article Methylisothiazolinone and the contact allergy ‘epidemic’. Gorav N Wali, Susan M Cooper. 2016, Vol 15, No 1.

Safe Cosmetics – Article Phenoxyethanol.

World Health Organisation – Article Opinion of the scientific committee on cosmetic products and non-food products intended for consumers concerning benzoic acid and sodium benzoate.

Wellness Mama – Article Natural Homemade Baby Wipes. Katie Wells. January 27, 2011. [Updated July 30, 2019]

 

As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy-friendly recipes), ScratchSleeves also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-adult in a range of colours. Visit our main website for more information.

Published On: