A new study from Northwestern University has found that the use of baby wipes, among other factors, contributes to the development of food allergies.


While for many years mums have loved using wet wipes (they're so handy in a pinch), this information is important and so we want to bring it to our readers' attention.


The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology-published study looked at how genetics, the use of baby wipes, and skin exposure to food and dust allergens all combine to create the perfect storm that triggers food allergies.


“This is a recipe for developing food allergy. It’s a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life," lead study author Joan Cook-Mills, professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Northwestern Now.



Cook-Mills made the connection between these different factors by first considering the fact that up to 35 percent of children who suffer from food allergies have atopic dermatitis.


The occurrence of this condition is often explained by at least three different gene mutations that reduce the skin barrier. With this in mind, she first exposed neonatal mice with skin barrier mutations to peanuts, but this had no effect.


“Then I thought about what are babies exposed to," the author explained, "They are exposed to environmental allergens in dust in a home. They may not be eating food allergens as a newborn, but they are getting them on their skin. 


"Say a sibling with peanut butter on her face kisses the baby. Or a parent is preparing food with peanuts and then handles the baby."



She realised that infant wipes were the missing factor, as the soap in baby wipes disrupts the lipids (fats) on the top layer of the skin.


Cook-Mills noted that the skin problems that accompany skin barrier mutations may not be apparent until a while after the food allergy has begun.


The neonatal mice with the skin mutations didn't show signs of dermatitis until they were a few months old, or the equivalent of a young adult in terms of a human's lifespan.


During the next part of the study, the neonatal mice had three to four skin exposures of food and dust allergens for 40 minutes during a two-week period.


They were then given egg or peanut by mouth, which resulted in allergic reactions at the site of skin exposure and in the intestine. They also experienced anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction.



She found that in order for the mice to develop food allergies, a skin barrier dysfunction had to occur. The manifestation of the skin dysfunction ranged from what may simply appear to be dry skin to much severer reactions.


Considering this, Cook-Mills proposed a simple solution in order to reduce the frequency of food allergies:


“Reduce baby’s skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby. Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago."


What do you think of the study's results?