One of the biggest quandaries for new parents is knowing what products to buy for their newborn. From diapers to formula and shampoo to baby wipes, the list of ingredients on these packages often seems to be in a different language. Most proponents of organic goods advise new parents to only choose natural products with few and easily recognizable ingredients for good reason. Surprisingly, baby products, including baby wipes, considered a cosmetic by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are often formulated with potentially toxic ingredients.
Possibly Toxic Products
According to GoodGuide, an organization founded in 2007 by Dara O’Rourke, an environmental professor at the University of California at Berkeley, consumers know little about the products they use. Consumers need to educate themselves, as product ingredients can often lead to problems. Infants are particularly susceptible to chemically based ingredients and face a far greater health risk from exposure to toxic substances than adults.
Not including the packaging, the number one ingredient in baby wipes is water. However, water can be tap, filtered, distilled or from a spring, with some sources potentially having unwanted elements, such as mercury and chlorine. Other common ingredients are Cetyl Hydroxyethylcellulose, a plant-based product used as a cleaning agent, and aloe vera gel, a generally accepted plant-based healing agent. Glycerin is also a common element and is a vegetable oil derivative. Last, but not least, is citric acid, which aids in stability and maintains the pH balance of the product.
Preservatives and Stabilizers
While some ingredients are harmless, others are definitely questionable, particularly when added to baby wipes. Food grade preservatives that you might find include citric acid, tocopherol acetate or vitamin E acetate, potassium sorbate, which is a mold and yeast inhibitor and sodium benzoate, an antimicrobial preservative. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sodium benzoate is essentially safe, though it can cause an allergic reaction to individuals who are sensitive to this ingredient. Additional ingredients you might find include propylene glycol, a stabilizer and quaternium, an ammonium salt often used as a preservative in cosmetics.
Additional ingredients you might find in baby wipes that are known to cause minor to more serious interactions include Disodium EDTA, a chelating agent used to absorb impurities; sodium citrate, a urinary alkalizer; phenoxyethanol, an antiseptic agent; ethylhexylglycerin, a cleaning agent; benzyl alcohol, an anesthetic and bacteriostatic; dipropylene glycol, a solvent; lauryl glucoside, a surface-active agent; carbomer, a suspending agent; anisic acid, an antiseptic; and coco glucoside, a fragrance.
When buying baby wipes, you will often see icons on the package depicting product certification by certain organizations. Examples include “Green America Seal of Approval” or the “EPA Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative.” These seals do not necessarily mean that the product does not contain a questionable ingredient. The seal often relates more to the company's environmental stewardship than one providing a 100-percent safe product for your child. For instance, the EPA seal only refers to the use of an environmentally safer surfactant in the product's cleaning ingredient -- it does not necessarily address whether that ingredient is safe for your baby.