Researcher Mary Chang, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut (UC) School of Medicine, and UC medical student Radhika Nakrani found that the preservative methylisothiazolinone (MI) can cause itchy, scaly, red rashes in adults and children. These rashes are often misdiagnosed as eczema, impetigo or psoriasis.
In the published case report, the authors investigated six children who had been diagnosed with skin rashes that did not respond to treatment with antibiotics and corticosteroids, both orally and on the skin. The cases took place between March 2011 and January 2013 and all involved Huggies and Cottonelle brands of wipes.
In one case, an 8-year-old girl had been diagnosed with impetigo or psoriasis by her pediatrician. When patch tested by Chang, she had a severe reaction to MI. The rash cleared two days after her mother stopped using wipes with the preservative.
According to Chang, MI is not new, but was used as a combination preservative. In an attempt to minimize allergic reactions, it is now used as a single preservative, but in a higher concentration, and people are developing allergic reactions to the new formulation.
“My advice is that parents should try to minimize the use of wet wipes on their children to minimize exposure to preservatives, fragrance, and other ingredients that can cause allergic reactions,” Chang recommended in an email to HealthDay.
She suggested using a gentle cleanser and water at home, and perhaps just using wipes when traveling or out of the house.
Help is also coming from at least one manufacturer of wet wipes.
Bob Brand, a spokesman for Kimberly-Clark, manufacturer of Huggies and Cottonelle wipes, told HealthDay, “While our wipe products remain safe for use, we recognize that recent studies have raised concerns about the use of MI as a preservative ingredient.”
Brand indicated that beginning in January Kimberly-Clark was introducing wet wipes that are MI-free in the U.S., Canada, Europe and other global markets.
And for concerned parents, one expert cautioned that the study findings should not throw them into a panic.
“We are talking about a very small proportion of people who will have a problem with MI,” Carla Davis, MD, director of the food allergy program at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, told HealthDay.
“So really, parents should be comfortable using wipes until their child develops a rash that doesn’t resolve in the regular manner. But if that happens and the rash is persistent, then the wipes could be a problem and testing should be pursued by a dermatologist,” advised Davis.