A San Diego mother is suing personal care giant Kimberly-Clark for including a synthetic chemical in baby wipes that were labeled ‘natural, and ‘hypoallergenic.’ The chemical, phenoxyethanol, may cause vomiting and diarrhea in infants, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The chemical is used to maintain freshness in the wipes.
Brittany Sebastian bought a package of Huggies Natural Care Baby Wipes in the fall of 2016 based in part on the company’s assertion that the wipes were ‘natural,’ ‘gentle,’ and ‘hypoallergenic.’ The suit states that, had Sebastian known that the wipes contained the chemical, she would have purchased another brand of wipes. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Sebastian is seeking damages for deceptive advertising, unlawful business practices, and other charges.
Phenoxyethanol can irritate skin and is poisonous if ingested, according to the suit. In France, consumers have been urged not to use wipes which contain the chemical on children under three due to concerns about developmental and reproductive toxicity. The suit indicates that long-term exposure to phenoxyethanol has caused organ damage. The chemical has been used for many years instead of parabens and preservatives that release formaldehyde, as both of those products have been linked to cancer.
Phenoxyethanol is used in small quantities in several other products that claim to be natural, such as some Honest Company cleaning products and Whole Foods’ Premium Baby Care products.
The Honest Company recognized the controversy around the chemical on its blog, stating that “Most of the studies that have found significant negative health impacts are based on full-strength or high-dose exposures. In real life usage, exposures are quite small.”
The lawsuit notes the presence of other synthetic chemicals, including caprylil glycol, which acts as a preservative and skin conditioner; cocamidopropyl betaine, a cleanser; and sodium citrate, which helps keep the wipes white.
Kimberly-Clark denies wrongdoing in the case and has indicated it will defend its brand and products. A spokesman for the company indicated that no safety event was indicated in the suit, and it does not allege any injury or risk of injury to a consumer.