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A surprising factor behind rising allergy rates? Baby wipes, says new study

With food allergy rates on the rise among American children, everyone from nutritionists to pediatricians and even product development companies are looking for solutions. But a new study contains insight that could help parents prevent allergies, and it involves those wet wipes many of us use dozens of times each day.

The study offers “a major advance in our understanding of how food allergy starts early in life,” says lead study author Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

According to the research to be published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a mix of environmental and genetic factors mix together to trigger the development of an allergy in a child.

More specifically: The researchers say the use of “infant cleansing wipes that leave soap on the skin” can contribute to the development of food allergies among children who are genetically predisposed to altered skin absorbency. And since our children’s “skin absorbency” isn’t a trait easily recognizable to parents, the researchers say the easiest solution is to cool it with those wet wipes.

“Reduce baby's skin exposure to the food allergens by washing your hands before handling the baby,” says Cook-Mills in a press release. “Limit use of infant wipes that leave soap on the skin. Rinse soap off with water like we used to do years ago.”

For the study, Cook-Mills and a team of researchers considered the fact that an estimated one-in-three children with food allergies also has eczema—which they hypothesized said something about the connection between children’s skin barriers and a predisposition to allergies.

As for how this barrier is commonly disrupted, Cook-Mills says, “I thought oh my gosh! That's infant wipes!”

“Then I thought about what are babies exposed to,” Cook-Mills says. “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.”

Testing their theories on neonatal mice models with skin barrier mutations, the researchers found “skin barrier dysfunction was necessary for food allergy to develop in the mice.”

The researchers say the findings offer promise for possibly blocking the development of food allergies among children. And, for now, we parents may want to stick with soap and water rather than all those wet wipes.

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