If you have rough or cracked fingertips and you regularly change your baby’s nappy, the ingredients in your baby wipes could be the cause of your skin condition. It is the pinching action of withdrawing wipes from the box that makes your fingertips particularly vulnerable, especially the thumb and index finger of your dominant hand. This article summarises recent findings on the link between baby wipes and contact dermatitis, helps you to test whether nappy wipes are indeed the cause of your own cracked fingertips, and offers some free or inexpensive practical solutions to allow your fingertips to heal.
Roughened thumb tip exposed to baby wipes that is just starting to crack perpendicular to the thumb print
The link between contact dermatitis and an ingredient in baby wipes (methylisothiazolinone or MI) was identified in a 2014 research letter by Dr. Rosemary Nixon to the Medical Journal of Australia. Dr. Nixon found that just over one in ten people presenting with allergic dermatitis at two clinics had their reactions attributed to baby wipes, and that this had risen steadily over the last few years. Apart from being painful, severe cracked skin can leave you vulnerable to skin infections.
Allergic skin reactions can potentially be from many sources, so to test whether baby wipes are the cause of your cracked fingertips, here is a simple home-test you can try. Buy yourself a pair of unlined rubber/plastic gloves and wear the glove on your dominant hand when you change your baby’s nappy. Change to wiping the baby with your gloveless non-preferred hand. After 4-5 days you should see your symptoms ease on the hand with the glove, and worsen on the other hand that is now doing the wiping. If the skin irritation worsens on the gloved hand, then baby wipes are probably not the problem and you should talk to your health care professional about other possible sources.
If you find that baby wipes are the likely cause of your cracked fingertips, then here are a few simple tips to prevent further deterioration of your skin and allow them to heal. These are in no particular order:
1. Wear the gloves permanently. Gloves are annoying to wear and can get expensive if you use the disposable plastic ones every time you change a nappy. Gloves might be an option if you have bought your wipes in bulk and don’t want the expense of buying more, or if you can’t find a suitable wipe for your skin.
Wear a protective glove on the hand that uses the wipes
2. Change the brand of baby wipes until you find one that does not irritate your skin. Kimberley Clark (Huggies brand) advised me that wipes manufactured in their Korean plant that are labelled “paraben free” do not contain MI. These started coming into stores in early 2014 but there may be old product in some stores for some time. Johnson and Johnson (Curash brand) won’t be phasing out MI until 2015. I am not familiar with other brands and whether they do or do not contain MI. Buy a small pack initially until you are comfortable that the wipes are not irritating your skin. You have to try for yourself and don't necessarily believe the packaging hype - one particular baby wipe only listed "gentle ingredients:" which left me wondering what the un-gentle ones were.
3. Use a washable cloth instead of disposable wipes. You need to be more careful about hygiene, but this is what people did in the world before disposable wipes, so it is definitely a feasible option. You still need to be careful about the type of disinfectant that you use and the impact that it can have on your and your baby’s skin.
4. Use a hand cream to help your skin to recover quicker. Read the labels on the hand cream and make sure it is appropriate to your application, particularly if you have deeply cracked skin.
I found that washing your hands immediately after using the wipes did not help to prevent the skin irritation – contact with the wipe had to be removed altogether.
If the wipes irritate your skin, then there is a chance that the wipes may also be irritating your baby’s skin. If you have any concerns about the effect that baby wipes may be having on your child, consult your health care professional and have your baby’s skin examined carefully.