Using wet wipes after going to the bathroom can be a less-than-soothing experience, according to a new report of four people who developed severe allergic reactions after using such products.
Doctors have long known that many of the preservatives used in wet wipes can cause rashes, especially on irritated skin. But the authors of the new report, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., singled out one chemical — called methylchloroisothiazolinone or MCI — as a cause of particular concern.
For instance, one of their four patients, a mailman aged 49, had a rash around his anus so painful that he couldn't walk for months. He had been treated by several doctors without success and had to take a two-month leave from his job. It wasn't until he stopped using Kimberly-Clark's Cottonelle moist wipes, some of which contain MCI, that the problem cleared up.
Another man, who had psoriasis, automatically assumed the rash between his buttocks was a result of his disease. He suffered for 20 years, and then improved drastically within six weeks of dropping the moist wipes he'd been using.
"Patients with (rashes around their anus) often continue to use the moist toilet paper with the belief that the cleansing will help heal the lesions," the researchers write in the Archives of Dermatology. "They may not make the correlation that the moist toilet paper is the culprit."
While the report only describes four isolated cases, the authors note that wet wipes are becoming increasingly popular among adults. "We voice our concern about MCI (and the related compound MI) being used as a preservative in cosmetics, industrial products, and moist toilet paper," they write.
It is unclear how many people are allergic to MCI, said Dr. Erin Warshaw, an allergy expert at the University of Minnesota, who was not involved in the new study. Among those referred to specialists for suspected allergies, she told Reuters Health by e-mail, about 3 percent react to MCI.
In her experience, she added, "wet wipes are a common cause of allergy. The allergens are almost always preservatives."
While agreeing that grownups should try to avoid these wipes, Dr. Peter Schalock of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston said the odds of breaking out were relatively small.
"I'm a fan of baby wipes," he said, noting that he had a 19-month-old at home. Still, he said, "for the people it causes problems for it is a major issue."
He added that for many products, there was no way around using preservatives. But he checks the label carefully before choosing a specific brand. "We tend to use those with fewer preservatives," he said, noting that Seventh Generation unscented baby wipes were his favorites.
Kimberly-Clark was not able to comment on the report.