I’m a dermatologist. I’m also a consumer and new mom. The dermatologist in me does not recommend diaper wipes due to the risk of allergic skin rashes. The mom in me sometimes just needs diaper wipes, especially when tackling a massive poop-on-the-go without running water. But which diaper wipe brand should a dermatologist mom use?
Repeated use and/or overuse of diaper wipes can lead to the development of allergic skin reactions. Allergic contact dermatitis is an acquired, allergen-specific, immune reaction that develops with repeated exposure to certain high-risk ingredients in skin care products, including diaper wipes, the so-called sensitization phase. The disease phase is characterized by recurrent, intensely itchy, inflamed, red rashes in response to exposure to even minimal amounts of the allergen. This phase is without alterable factors aside from strict allergen avoidance. People who have had no prior allergic reactions or history of sensitive skin can develop allergic contact dermatitis. The best way to minimize this risk is to use hypoallergenic, or minimally allergenic products, whenever possible.
For these reasons, dermatologists, myself included, often advise parents to use hypoallergenic skin care products. So, to say the least, it was especially alarming to discover that the term hypoallergenic is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and is defined differently by each skin care brand. Furthermore, while diaper wipes may be marketed as hypoallergenic, the process by which this is determined is not standardized or transparent.
Deciding that all hope was not lost, I took it upon myself (and my medical expertise) to go to the diaper wipe aisle and identify ingredient-based hypoallergenic brands. As a dermatologist, I know that it’s important to avoid products with fragrance, formaldehyde, and methylisothiazolinone, the most common skin allergens among children. To my surprise, several baby products that were marketed as hypoallergenic often contained one or more of these ingredients. Several hours after scrutinizing ingredient labels on each available diaper wipe product, I finally identified brands, such as Seventh Generation Original Free & Clear Baby Wipes and WaterWipes, which were devoid of these skin allergens. I have since prudently used the Seventh Generation diaper wipes and am happy to report that my son, who is now 18 months old, has not suffered a diaper rash.
Diaper wipes are really just meant for convenience and should be used sparingly if possible. No product is safer than washing with water. You can even immerse soft durable paper towels (e.g. Viva) in water and use these as wipes. Avoid using wipes with every diaper change, especially if your child bathes daily. Instead, reserve wipes for cleaning poops. It’s also important to avoid using wipes on the face and other body surfaces.
The problems described here are not unique to diaper wipes and also apply to other cosmetics and skin care products. For many parents and consumers, it can be extremely challenging to figure out which products are safe to use and actually live up to their claims. Unfortunately, terms such as hypoallergenic, dermatologist-recommended, among others, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And often there just isn’t enough time during a dermatology appointment to discuss specific skin care brands. In order to address these issues, I founded the not-for-profit Skin Trust Society, which is the first dermatologist-led organization that aims to guide parents and consumers about cosmetics and non-prescription skin care products. The Skin Trust Society also aims to promote transparency, trust, and conversation between consumers, physicians, and skin care companies. Not all brands are created equal but these differences are not always adequately highlighted to consumers. Furthermore, the Skin Trust Society’s Dermatologist Approved Seal is only awarded to skin care products that surpass certain medical criteria and allows consumers to easily identify ingredient and evidence-based hypoallergenic skin care products, real-time in stores or online.