Baby wipes seem to be a staple at most houses with small children. Or, well, children. You probably never felt the need to buy any until you had kids and now you can’t stop wondering why they’re called baby wipes. Not only they work well at the intended purpose of cleaning your baby from head to toe (baby poop, anyone?), they can tackle pretty much anything. You may occasionally run out of paper towels, tissues, or even toilet paper, but running out of baby wipes? Not acceptable!
If this sounds like you, you’re definitely not alone.
Have you ever wondered what a package of your favorite baby wipes contains?
Have you tried to decipher the strange-sounding ingredients?
If the answer is NO, and you feel like diaper changes are not exactly rainbow and glitter kind of job and don’t deserve any special attention and anything but sand paper and poison ivy will do the job, you might want to look away now.
Otherwise, you’re at the right place.
Skin is our largest organ and much of what we put on our skin gets absorbed into the bloodstream. On top of that, children are much more vulnerable because they tend to absorb chemicals at a higher rate than adults do. Last but not least, we don’t yet fully understand the effects of long-term exposure to chemicals or their cumulative effects.
So… How “clean” are baby wipes?
From year to year the ingredients of baby wipes change. And I’m pleased to say that as of early 2017, baby wipes have cleaned up their ingredient game significantly! Consumers are becoming more aware, and manufacturers are clearly paying attention. Some baby wipes are not yet entirely free of problematic ingredients, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction!
In the name of transparency, I wish all baby wipes manufacturers shared their ingredients on their websites. But they don’t, and online sellers aren’t much more informative either since they don’t seem to update the ingredients to reflect the changes made. So I literally had to go to the baby wipe aisle with my two kids in tow and take pictures of the labels of all available wipes on the shelves. It was loud, it was long, but it had to be done.
Here is the breakdown of baby wipes ingredients as of 2017
I have divided the ingredients into three categories, and you can find the lists of ingredients if you scroll down.
❸ Ingredients to watch out for, including contaminants.
❷ Ingredients to think about.
❶ Ingredients that are beneficial or of low concern. (Purity of the essential oils/extracts or even water might be of concern to some, but I gave them a low priority and focused on the bigger offenders instead.)
Here goes. No drama, no fearmongering, just available scientific data.
❸ Ingredients that are best AVOIDED
Fragrances are mixtures of undisclosed ingredients and have been associated with a number of health issues as well as environmental concerns. Did you know that just one aroma may contain hundreds of different chemicals? The majority of fragrances are derived from petroleum and can contain phthalates, parabens, VOCs, synthetic musks, and other harmful chemicals and irritants unless specified otherwise.
But don’t just settle for a “no scent” wipe the next time you’re shopping for baby wipes. Some products can contain a masking agent to cover strong or unpleasant scents of other ingredients. However, the masking agent would then be listed on the label.
Ceteareth-12, and Ceteareth-20
Ceteareth ingredients have ended up in this category for the following reasons:
- They enhance skin absorption, allowing other, possibly toxic substances to penetrate deeper into the skin.
- Available data indicate that Cetearyth ingredients shouldn’t be used on irritated or injured skin (which includes diaper rash).
- These ingredients may be contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-Dioxane as a result of being treated with ethylene oxide. (Please see “Contamination” below).
❷ Ingredients you may want to think twice about
Malic acid is known for its ability to exfoliate skin. It appears to be generally safe when used topically (except for high concentrations) but may cause skin irritation in individuals with sensitive skin and can increase sensitivity to sunlight. I understand that most people don’t constantly wipe their kids with baby wipes containing malic acid on a hot summer afternoon. Still, do take that into consideration.
Contact sensitization in humans has been documented but appears to be a rare occurrence. I wasn’t able to find any studies proving this ingredient harmful when used topically in allowed concentrations.
The ONLY reason phenoxyethanol landed here is because the FDA issued a warning back in 2008 stating that ingestion of phenoxyethanol may be harmful and toxic to infants. It appears they’ve since taken the notice down, and only a warning against using a specific nipple cream (containing phenoxyethanol AND chlorphenesin) remains.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning people not to use or buy Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream because the product contains potentially harmful ingredients that may cause respiratory problems or vomiting and diarrhea in infants. The two potentially harmful ingredients in Mommy’s Bliss Nipple Cream are chlorphenesin and phenoxyethanol, which may interact with one another to further increase the risk of slow or shallow breathing (respiratory depression) in nursing infants.
There may be nothing to worry about with regards to just phenoxyethanol, but to err on the side of caution I’d make sure that your baby doesn’t chew on wipes containing phenoxyethanol. I hear that some babies like to chew on wipes.
Clinical tests have shown that while low concentrations of disodium EDTA do not irritate, sensitize, or penetrate the skin, this ingredient improves skin absorption of other ingredients. It means that if any harmful ingredients are present in the wipe solution besides disodium EDTA, they’re more likely to get absorbed into baby’s skin.
HIDDEN INGREDIENTS/CONTAMINANTS OF BABY WIPES:
In addition to ingredients that are clearly printed on the label, there may be unwelcome surprises found in the package as well. Disposable wipes can contain impurities such as by-products of the manufacturing process.
Some of the used ingredients may be contaminated with the following:
⧉ Ethylene Oxide and 1,4-Dioxane
The ingredients listed below are produced with ethylene oxide, and if extreme caution isn’t taken during the manufacturing process, they may (or may not – no way for a consumer to know) become contaminated with ethylene oxide and 1,4-Dioxane. Both ethylene oxide and 1,4-Dioxane are potent skin irritants and carcinogens, and regular use of disposable baby wipes containing these contaminants would increase the risk of cancer.
Ceteareth-12 and Ceteareth-20
(Please see ❸ above)
Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil 3
BIS-PEG/PPG-16/16 PEG/PPG-16/16 Dimethicone
Butoxy PEG-4 PG-Amodimethicone
Hydroquinone is essentially used as a bleaching agent in lightening skin care products marketed for reducing age spots and blemishes. It has been shown to be carcinogenic in some animal studies, it can make skin more sensitive to sunlight and may also act as a skin sensitizer. Cancer-causing properties have yet to be proven in humans though, and additional studies will have to be conducted.
Tocopheryl Acetate is a synthetic form of Tocopherol – the natural vitamin E. Overall, both Tocopherol and Tocopheryl Acetate are beneficial for the skin as they have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, when Tocopheryl Acetate is produced synthetically using methylhydroquinone, it may be contaminated with hydroquinone. I would much prefer if baby wipes contained Tocopherol instead.
❶ Ingredients of low concern
The rest of the ingredients (left in black) are generally beneficial or not considered harmful when used topically in small concentrations, even though their purity may be of concern to some.
FYI: Most baby wipes contain glycerin which can either come from natural sources (both plants and animals) or can be made synthetically (derived from petroleum). Either type of glycerin is generally considered safe, but some may prefer one source over the other. Manufacturers however don’t specify which type of glycerin they use.
Disposable baby wipes ingredients as of February, 2017
(In the alphabetical order)
Please note that the following are Amazon affiliate links, so you can actually see the correct and updated packaging of different types of baby wipes. Yes, I may receive a few shiny pennies if you make a purchase through these links with no additional cost to you. Thank you!
Purified Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Camillia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Cucumis Sativus Fruit Extract, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Glycerin, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate.
⚑ AMAZON ELEMENTS BABY WIPES, Sensitive
Purified Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate.
Purified Water, Lauryl Glucoside, Glyceryl Oleate Citrate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil*, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil*, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil*, Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin) Seed Oil*, Rubus Idaeus (Red Raspberry) Seed Oil, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract*, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Citric Acid.
⚑ EARTH’S BEST Premium EARTH FRIENDLY BABY WIPES
Purified Water, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, Glycerin, Ceteareth-12, Cetyl Palmitate, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate.
⚑ EARTH’S BEST EARTH FRIENDLY BABY WIPES Sensitive
⚑ HONEST CO. BABY WIPES
Water (Aqua), Glycerin, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Prunica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Peucedanum Ostruthium (Masterwort) Leaf Extract, Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Silver Citrate.
⚑ HUGGIES One And Done
Water/Eau/Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Polysorbate 20, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Coco-Betaine, Malic Acid, Fragrance/Parfum, Glycerin, Sodium Citrate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract.
⚑ HUGGIES Simply Clean
⚑ HUGGIES Natural Care
⚑ KIRKLAND (COSTCO) BABY WIPES
Purified Water, Phenoxyethanol, Decyl Glucoside, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate, Glycerin, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Caledula Officinalis Flower Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract.
⚑ NATY WIPES
Aqua (Water), Glycerin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Sorbitan Caprylate, Decyl Glucoside, Propanediol, Benzoic Acid, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Citrate.
⚑ PAMPERS Baby Fresh BABY WIPES
Water, Citric Acid, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Citrate, Sorbitan Caprylate, Sodium Benzoate, Disodium EDTA, BIS-PEG/PPG-16/16 PEG/PPG-16 Dimethicone, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Xanthan Gum, Fragrance/Parfum/Fragrancia.
⚑ PAMPERS Sensitive + PAMPERS Natural Clean BABY WIPES
Water, Citric Acid, Peg-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Citrate, Sorbitan Caprylate, Sodium Benzoate, Disodium EDTA, BIS-PEG/PPG-16/16 PEG/PPG-16 Dimethicone, Caprylic/Capric Tryglyceride, Xanthan Gum.
After you read this, you may wonder: what’s the difference between the two wipes? Why are there two different packages for the same wipe???
Both versions of these wipes have the exact same ingredients at this point. The Natural Clean Wipes have been redesigned, and Pentadecalactone (the masking agent used to cover the scent of the ingredients) has been removed. They’re now both fragrance-free, and the ONLY current DIFFERENCE between the two wipes is that the Sensitive wipes are 20% thicker. (Source: I asked Pampers.)
⚑ SEVENTH GENERATION
⚑ UP & UP (TARGET) BABY WIPES Sensitive Skin
Water, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Cellulose Gum.
⚑ UP & UP (TARGET) BABY WIPES Fresh Cucumber
Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Glycerin, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Cellulose Gum.
⚑ UP& UP (TARGET) BABY WIPES Fresh Scent
Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Disodium Cocoamhodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Cellulose Gum.
⚑ UP & UP (TARGET) BABY WIPES Unscented
Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acetate, Disodium Cocoamhodiacetate, Polysorbate 20, Citric Acid, Disodium Phosphate, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Cellulose Gum.
⚑ WATER WIPES
You may have heard that commercially available Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) has been found to contain synthetic antibacterial and antifungal disinfectants such as benzalkonium, triclosan, or methylparaben, none of which are naturally found in the extract of the seeds themselves. On the other hand, the GSE products that didn’t contain these additives appeared to have no antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral effects. It was therefore concluded that the antimicrobial activity of GSE is not due to the extract itself but adulteration of GSE with synthetic preservative agents.
The Water Wipes manufacturer claims that the GSE they use comes from a reputable supplier and is tested for contaminants (including but not limited to the three offenders listed above) and none are present. As far as GSE safety and/or efficacy, I’ll let you be the judge.
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UPDATED in July ’17 to reflect new information about the ingredient Phenoxyethanol.
On that note, if you’d like to find out what’s hiding in conventional disposable diapers, please click here.