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Food allergies linked to ‘perfect storm’ of baby wipes and genetics

Northwestern University researchers have discovered a link between food allergies, baby wipes and genetics.
Credit: Evgen_Prozhyrko
Baby wet wipes in a woman's hand.

Food allergies in kids range from annoying to a terrifying, time-consuming life or death condition for parents.

Now Northwestern University researchers have discovered a link between food allergies, baby wipes and genetics.

‘Perfect storm’ of factors

Researchers found from working with mice that food allergies developed if:

  • they possessed genetics that alter skin absorbency,
  • baby wipes that left soap on the skin were used,
  • they were exposed to dust allergens,
  • and they were in contact with problem foods like peanuts and eggs.

Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, called it the “perfect storm” for triggering a food allergy in a news release.

“This is a recipe for developing food allergy. It’s a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts in early life.”

The research was published in the April issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The baby wipes connection

Cook-Mills found exposing mice with a genetic mutation to something like peanuts alone had no effect when exposed to the skin. She considered all the other things babies are exposed to including environmental allergens. Cook-Mills then read about research studies that delivered compounds through the skin by using soap.

“I thought oh my gosh! That’s infant wipes!”

Northwestern’s research says that a baby’s skin is made up of lipids — fats — that can be disrupted by the soap in baby wipes and in certain babies, with a genetic disposition, this can increase the risk of their exposure to food allergens.

The research doesn’t say that wipes cause food allergies, but it does suggest ways to minimize a baby’s exposure to food allergens.

What parents can do

Researchers do have some common-sense, basic suggestions to reduce baby’s skin exposure to food allergens:

  • Wash your hands before handling the baby.
  • Limit use of baby wipes.
  • Rinse soap off with water.