Baby wipes linked to food allergies: study
THE USE of baby wipes may promote childhood food allergies by disrupting the skins natural protective barrier, US researchers say.
However the infant must already carry certain genetic mutations that affect the skin.
A study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggests a mix of environmental and genetic factors must coexist to trigger a food allergy.
The factors include the use of infant cleansing wipes that leave soap on the skin, skin exposure to dust and food and genetics that alter skin absorbency.
"This is a recipe for developing food allergy," said the lead author of the study, Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
"It's a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life," Professor Cook-Mills said.
Food allergies - particularly allergies to peanuts and tree nuts - is a growing problem with no known cause.
In Australia, food allergy occurs in around one-in-20 children.
Professor Cook-Mills says the evidence shows up to 35 per cent of children with food allergies also have atopic dermatitis and much of that is explained by at least three different gene mutations that reduce the skin barrier.
To investigate the role of these genetic mutations in food allergy researchers at Northwestern Medicine used baby mice with dermatitis and exposed their skins to food allergens like peanuts. The peanuts alone had no effect.
They then thought about what babies skin was exposed to early in life; household dust, soap through baby wipes and food allergens.
"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," explained Professor Cook-Mills.
Repeating the experiment, the researchers applied sodium lauryl sulfate, a common soap also found in wet wipes, to the skin of the mice before exposing them to common food and other allergens over a two-week period.
They were then fed egg or peanut, which resulted in a rash at the skin exposure site and well as allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.
It's thought the soap in the wipes disrupts the top skin layer, which is made of lipids (fats).
Parents should limit their use on infants, Professor Cook-Mills said.
"Reduce baby's skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby," she added.