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What's in your baby wipes?

By Anna Studman

We've compared baby-wipes ingredients in all the top brands – from Pampers to Huggies – so you know exactly what's going on your baby's skin.

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Parents go through masses of baby wipes each day. As they're constantly being used on your baby's sensitive skin, you may wonder whether anything on the ingredients list – or the length of the list itself – is cause for concern.

We've inspected the ingredients list on 14 popular brands of baby wipes, looking at the number of ingredients in each product, and whether they contain fragrance or phenoxylethanol, a preservative which is a potential allergen. Before you check out our comparison, read on to find out more about each of the different ingredients.

Preservatives in baby wipes

Preservatives in baby wipes are there to prevent mould and bacterial growth. But some preservative agents have a higher risk of causing allergic reactions when used frequently in contact with skin – and babies' sensitive skin is more vulnerable.

One of the most commonly used preservatives in baby wipes is phenoxyethanol. Exposure to this preservative has been linked to conditions including eczema, as well as respiratory health problems. However, the EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) said in October 2016 that the development of these conditions was rare.

This preservative is currently used only in regulated concentrations below what is deemed as safe for use by the EU. Even so, you might want to limit the amount of chemical preservatives you expose yourself and your child to, especially those with some evidence of potential health concerns. 

Some other common additives that, in rare, cases may cause irritation to the skin, eyes or lungs are:

  • malic acid (present in Huggies Pure Baby Wipes)
  • propylene glycol (in Sainsbury's Little Ones Eco Fragrance Free wipes)
  • benzyl alcohol
  • tocopherol acetate (in both Tesco fragranced and fragrance-free wipes). 

Check where these types of preservatives sit on the ingredients list – the higher up a preservative appears, the more of it there is in the wipes.

Remember, though, that contact allergy is rare, and the allowed amount of these ingredients is subject to regulation, so they will be present in wipes only at a concentration deemed as safe for use.

Which baby wipes contain MI?

You may have heard of a chemical called methylisothiazolinone – or, more likely, MI for short – causing more severe allergic reactions in infants. In March 2014, the SCCS stated that there was no safe concentration of this chemical in leave-on products (primarily hand and body lotions and moisturisers, but also including baby wipes) and, as a result, most major manufacturers have removed it from their wipes. As of 12 February 2017, the use of MI in leave-on products is banned in the EU.

Which baby wipes contain alcohol?

Parents often want to know which baby wipes contain alcohol. Of the wipes we looked at, a few contain alcohol in different forms, including as phenyoxyethanol and benzyl alcohol - two of the preservatives discussed above. Again, it's important to keep in mind that it's rare for these ingredients to cause problems, and alcohol compounds are used in many everyday products. 

Are baby wipes safe for newborns?

Many parents prefer to stick to the simplest  possible formulation in the early days - cotton wool and water. Most baby wipes will be advertised as suitable for use from day one, but a newborn's skin is particularly sensitive at this stage.

Fragranced vs fragrance-free wipes

There is no reason for baby wipes to contain fragrance. Dr David Orton, consultant dermatologist at the British Association of Dermatologists, says the inclusion of fragrance in these products 'defies logic' – and yet, most of the big supermarket brands stock a fragranced option. 

Some wipes contain an ingredient called 'parfum', which is an umbrella term referring to an undisclosed mixture of various scent chemicals. Dr Orton explains that in Europe, 'only 26 fragrance chemicals need to be individually named out of the approximate 2,000 fragrance chemicals that industry could use in a cosmetic product' (which is how baby wipes are classified in the EU).

But it's not always as simple as spotting 'parfum' on the label. Dr Orton points out that, confusingly, even if baby wipes are labelled as fragrance free, some ingredients could contain fragrance agents used as preservatives. Many wipes contain botanical extracts, including the commonly used chamomilla recutita flower extract.

Is hypoallergenic better?

Dr Orton points out that phrases including 'hypoallergenic,' 'all natural' and 'dermatologically tested' do not conform to any external standards and are essentially just marketing terms, which can be really confusing for parents. It's better to consult the ingredients list on the pack to get a proper idea of what these wipes contain.

Which baby wipes are best?

According to Dr Orton, 'bland is best' when it comes to baby wipes.

While we haven't yet tested baby wipes, so cannot make specific recommendations, ideally the ingredients list should be as short as possible. Some wipes have up to 18 ingredients, and all but two of the types we looked at had more than 10.

However, the baby wipes with the fewest ingredients also cost the most, so it's worth looking out for offers when you can. 

Read our guide on where to buy the cheapest baby wipes to find out where to get discounts on the big brands. 

If your baby has developed nappy rash, Dr Orton advises using plain water and cotton wool in place of baby wipes, to see if that clears up the irritation.

Ingredients in baby wipes
Product Price per wipe Ingredients Fragrance Phenoxyethanol

Aldi Mamia Fragrance Free table

Aldi Mamia Sensitive
 0.9p  17  Yes Yes 

Aldi Mamia Fragranced table

Aldi Mamia Fragranced

 0.9p  12  Yes  Yes

Asda Little Angels Extra Protection table

Asda Little Angels Extra Protection (64 pack)
1.2p 16 No Yes

Asda Little Angels Shea Butter table

Asda Little Angels Shea Butter (64 pack)
1.2p 18 Yes Yes

Huggies Pure Baby wipes table

Huggies Pure Baby (56 pack)
1.8p 7 No No

Johnsons baby extra sensitive wipes table

Johnson's Baby Extra Sensitive (56 pack)
2.3p 15 No Yes

Naty by Nature wipes table

Naty by Nature Wipes (56 pack)
3p 12 No No

Pampers Sensitive table

Pampers Sensitive (56 pack)
3p 13 No No

Sainsburys Little Ones Eco Sensitive table

Sainsbury's Little Ones Eco Sensitive (72 pack)
2p 12 No Yes

Tesco Loves Baby Fragrance Free table

Tesco Loves Baby Fragrance Free (64 pack)
1p 17 No No

Tesco Loves Baby Fragranced table

Tesco Loves Baby Fragranced (64 pack)
1p 18 Yes No

WaterWipes table

WaterWipes (60 pack)
4p 2 No No
Table notes
1 Prices correct as of February 2017, based on price at respective supermarkets for own-brand products, and at Boots for branded products