By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director
Parents of newborn babies change their infant’s diaper as often as 12 times a day, reaching for disposable baby wipes to keep little bottoms clean and tidy. But parents may not know baby wipes are regulated under some of the weakest safety laws on the books.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates baby wipes as cosmetics. By law, cosmetics manufacturers don’t have to get FDA approval for products or their ingredients before they go on the market. Nor does the FDA test products for safety before they go on sale, or regulate the use of words like scented, unscented or natural on labels. (Click here to learn more about cosmetics regulations.)
These weak regulations can have troubling consequences.
Poor manufacturing practices can result in contamination of baby wipes with bacteria and mold. Since 2001, Rockline Industries, which makes wipes sold under 20 different brand names, has recalled some lots of its wipes seven different times, most recently in January of this year. In October 2014, Nutek Disposables recalled all lots of wipes sold under 10 different brand names at national big-box chains, after tests found some were contaminated with a bacteria that can increase susceptibility to infections.
Besides contamination, wipes can also contain ingredients that can cause health problems. A 2014 study by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine found that about one-fifth of pediatric skin care products tested, including baby wipes, contained the preservative methylisothiazolinone, or MI, that has been linked to rising rates of skin allergies.
Cosmetics regulations in the United States are out of date, insufficient and put all of us at risk, especially vulnerable infants. Baby powder, lotion, shampoo and bubble bath all are all subject to the same weak rules. Here’s what you can do to make baby wipes – and all the cosmetics products your family uses – safer.
Report problems with your baby wipes or cosmetics to FDA
Because companies are not required to disclose safety information or customer complaints to FDA, the agency relies on consumers to report questionable products.
If your baby wipes smell different than usual, take on an unusual color or cause a reaction on your child’s body, contact FDA to report the problem. Call (800) 332-1088, file a report online or contact your local consumer complaint coordinator. (Click here to learn more about how to report a problem.)
Choose products carefully
Although bacterial contamination is a major reason for recalling baby wipes, the preservatives added to wipes to prevent bacterial growth can cause problems for your baby. MI, sodium borate and formaldehyde releasers can all trigger allergic skin reactions and rashes.
To find wipes with fewer ingredients of concern, visit EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
Support legislation to reform federal cosmetics laws
The Personal Care Products Safety Act, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), would strengthen cosmetics regulations, largely unchanged since the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act was passed in 1938.
The law would require companies to demonstrate they are abiding by good manufacturing practices and reporting safety issues to FDA. It would also give FDA authority to review questionable ingredients and recall unsafe products. (Click here to learn more about the Personal Care Products Safety Act.)