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Total Bacterial Count of 1 Personal Care Wet Wipes Model Exceeded Maximum Limit by Almost 500 Times 2 Models Contained Allergenic Chemicals Avoid Wiping Wounds or Contact with Mucous Membrane

  • 2023.07.18

With a wide range of uses, personal care wet wipes are especially common for daily care of the elderly or for new parents taking their infants out, providing a quick and easy way to clean up hands and faces on the go or at diaper changes. However, wet wipes may pose health risks if they are not hygienic and safe. The Consumer Council tested personal care wet wipes available on the market and found that 1 model had a total bacterial count exceeding the maximum limit by nearly 500 times, which may pose a higher risk to individuals with weaker immune systems such as the elderly and infants. 1 model contained solution with a pH value below the lower limit of the China National Standard of Wet Wipes, which may cause itchy skin or inflammation. In addition, 2 models contained allergenic chemicals that might irritate the skin.

The tests covered 20 models of personal care wet wipes more common in the market, mainly used for body cleansing. None of the models claimed to have disinfecting properties while some were labelled with terms such as “pure water” or “for hand and mouth use”, and most of them claimed to be suitable for infants. Except for 1 model with individual packaging (2 sheets per pack), and 2 which were in small packets (10 or 20 sheets per pack), the rest had 60 to 100 sheets per pack. The unit price per wet wipe ranged from $0.12 to $0.8, a difference of over 5.5 times.

1 Model’s Measured Bacterial Count Nearly 500 Times over the Standard

Risk of Infections After Use

The hygiene of wet wipes must not be overlooked as they inevitably come into contact with the eyes and mouth. All tested models were not detected with Coliforms, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemolytic streptococci, and any fungi, but 1 model was found to have a total bacterial count of 100,000cfu/g, which exceeded the upper limit (200cfu/g) set by the China Hygienic Standard for Disposable Sanitary Products by nearly 500 times. This indicated possible contamination by microorganisms prior to the packaging being opened. Although not all bacteria are pathogens which could cause infectious diseases, there is still a risk of infection, especially for people with weaker immune systems like the elderly and infants. If wet wipes with excessive bacteria are used to clean the face, eyes, mouth, and intimate areas, etc., it might raise concerns of causing conjunctivitis, gastroenteritis, or symptoms like swollen throat and fever.

In addition, the solution contained in 1 wet wipe model had a pH value of 3.2, below the lower limit (pH value 3.5-8.5) of the China National Standard of Wet Wipes. The Council cautions that contact with solutions that are too acidic or too alkaline might cause skin irritation, which may lead to itching or inflammation, thus consumers should avoid using them.

2 Models Detected with Allergenic Chemicals and Preservatives Respectively

After using a wet wipe, its solution would remain on the skin surface for a period of time, so consumers should be aware of the presence of allergenic chemicals. Test results showed that 1 model contained 0.0015% free formaldehyde, which might irritate the skin and eyes and cause inflammation after contact. Generally speaking, free formaldehyde detected in personal care products is usually released from added preservatives, but the model in question provided no relevant warning. According to the latest EU Cosmetic Products Regulation, any product releasing over 0.001% of free formaldehyde must be labelled with “releases formaldehyde”. Although the transitional period of this requirement extends until July 2026, the Council still recommends the manufacturer concerned to include a warning on the packaging promptly to remind consumers of the relevant risks.

2 types of parabens were found in 1 model, including 0.039% methylparaben and 0.021% ethylparaben, but the total content did not exceed the EU limit of 0.8%. Parabens are often added to personal care products and cosmetics because of their high preservative effect and low cost, but a small number of people may have allergic reactions to them that could lead to skin inflammation. Some overseas studies have also pointed out that parabens may act similar to oestrogen in human body and may interfere with the endocrine system. Consumers are therefore advised to avoid products containing this type of preservative.

As infants and the elderly have relatively sensitive skin, prolonged use of wet wipes with chemicals may pose a higher threat of causing allergic reactions. Instead of using wet wipes, experts recommend using gauze or pure cotton with warm water when changing diapers for infants and the elderly to reduce exposure to chemical additives. If water is not available, experts remind consumers to avoid contact of the wet wipes with mucous membranes such as intimate areas.

Manufacturers Urged to Improve Unclear and Incomplete Labelling

Consumers often overlook the expiry date when buying wet wipes. Wet wipes contain a lot of moisture and despite usually being sealed in packages, they are not vacuum packed and long-term storage could still allow bacterial growth, so special care should be taken during purchase and use. The Council’s review revealed that 6 models were not labelled with the expiry date on their packaging, while some others only listed a set of numbers with neither clarification of its meaning nor indication as the expiry date. Manufacturers are urged to improve promptly and provide clear labelling of the expiry date for consumers’ reference. Besides, 7 models did not label the ingredients in Chinese or English. As some consumers might have allergic reactions if they unknowingly used wet wipes containing preservatives or fragrances, the relevant manufacturers should also make improvements to help consumers make informed choices.

Use Sparingly as Not all Materials Are Eco-friendly

Despite their convenience, most of the wet wipes are made from materials that could pose a burden on the environment. Wet wipes are commonly made from non-woven fabric, containing natural or synthetic fibres. Some synthetic fibres are difficult to decompose naturally and only 5 tested models were labelled with the fibre material used. The Council recommends other manufacturers to follow suit so that consumers could know how eco-friendly the product is. Although some manufacturers claimed that their products were made from natural or recycled materials, these disposable consumables might not be effectively decomposed by microorganisms due to factors such as the actual conditions of landfills and the chemical additives to the wet wipes. As such, it would be more environmentally friendly to reduce the use of wet wipes.

Some tips for consumers when purchasing and using wet wipes:

  • Avoid storing wipes for too long after opening. Although most products have a resealable sticker, the seal may not be airtight enough to keep out bacteria and may cause hygiene problems;
  • After each use, seal the package properly and make sure the sticker is tightly closed around the package. This could help lower the chance of bacterial contamination of unused wipes, slow down evaporation of moisture, and prevent foreign objects such as dust or insects from entering the package;
  • Avoid contact with the adhesive part of the sticker as grease and dust from fingers could reduce the adhesiveness of the sticker thus affecting the seal;
  • Individually wrapped wet wipes could reduce the risk of bacterial contamination but also generates a larger amount of packaging waste. When choosing between large and small packs of wet wipes, consumers should first consider their own usage habits and try to strike a balance between convenience and environmental friendliness.


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