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What’s REALLY in Those Wet Wipes?
Have you ever used a wipe and thought to yourself, “What is this wipe made of? What ingredients are in the solution?”
These questions are vital, especially when it comes to wipes being used on infants and children. Do you know what’s in your wipe? There are two main components to a wipe: the physical make-up and the solution the wipe sits in until it’s used.
The Wipe Itself
Most wipes are made of a blend of multiple fibers (non-woven). Not surprisingly, the more trustworthy wipes are made of cotton. When searching for a wipe, durability is key. Cotton naturally becomes stronger when wet, which sounds like the ideal wipe, right? However, most wipes are made from rayon and polyester, or a blend of both. Polyester is not biodegradable and rayon requires a lot of chemicals in its processing, which produces a number of waste by-products that are known to be harmful to humans the environment.
It’s also worth noting that wipes made by Huggies, a major brand, contain a large percentage of wood pulp. This formulation is a combination of polypropylene and wood pulp called Coform. Which means they’re rougher and weaker than their counterparts, especially wipes made of cotton.
The Wipe Solution
Now here’s where things get messy. Wipe solutions can contain a combination of many “ingredients”; parabens and undisclosed fragrances just to name a couple.
- Let’s start with the good news: water is the main ingredient in wipe solution. If possible, look for wipes containing purified water. Like Purified Cotton, purified water has undergone an extensive cleaning process.
- Surfactants are the cleaning agents and detergents used to remove unwanted debris from the skin. These are used to increase wetting properties, but certain types can cause skin irritation in children and adults.
- Emulsifiers help the water mix with oil ingredients. However, synthetic emulsifiers are known skin irritants. This includes Polysorbate 20, which is also used in cleaning products and processed food.
- Preservatives, while necessary to prevent mold growth, can be overloaded in your wipe without any of its ingredients being disclosed. Preservatives can come in the form of parabens. Some members of the paraben family are: methlyparaben, propylparaben, butlylparaben, and ethlyparaben. Parabens have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and hormonal problems. Fortunately, companies that manufacture wipes are beginning to steer away from parabens.
- Humectant helps the wipes retain their moisture. Two examples of artificial humectants are Propylene Glycol and Polyethylene Glycol (or PEG). Propylene Glycol is found in the all-encompassing ingredient known as “fragrance” and is known to cause allergic reactions, such as hives and eczema. PEG is often added to wipes to dissolve grease, but it strips the skin of its natural moisture.
- Fragrances. Where should we begin? This one word represents a mixture of hundreds of ingredients, all unclassified. The IFRA lists 3,999 materials that are reported as being used in fragrance compounds. How many of those nearly 4,000 chemicals are in your wipes?
Artificial fragrance has been proven to be the cause of multiple allergens and irritants in humans. In addition, some fragrances also have negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, synthetic musks are washed down sewers and drains. Because wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to handle them, they find their way into the ocean.
Whew, that was a lot of information and complex words.
Here are the important takeaways:
- Be sure that your wipes are made from a biodegradable material like Purified Cotton; it’s better for the environment and it’s better for you. Plus, who doesn’t like a ultra-soft wipe? You can’t get that same feel with polypropylene.
- Look at the ingredients before you buy. Not all chemicals are inherently bad, but there are a good many that will require personal research. Researching the ingredients will allow you to reach an informed decision on whether or not to use them in your everyday products.
- Just say no to parabens. You’re better off without them.
- Check for fragrances. Are your coconut-smelling wipes really derived from a natural substance? When in doubt, opt for fragrance-free wipes, naturally occurring fragrances, or products that disclose all of their fragrance ingredients.