As a green mama, I cannot help but feel smug. Here’s my baby’s bathroom, filled with Nighty-Night Badger Balms, Weleda bath gels, and a diaper oil (not balm, because, you know, balms are thick and pull the skin) made of biodynamic cold-pressed oils and organic infusions. Wait, and we have a packet of baby wipes, perfectly green, eco-friendly baby wipes we picked along with our weekly pack of biodegradable disposables. (Yeah, I know. Disposables. Yikes. But wait, they aren’t that bad. Next time I’ll address this issue, too).

            Anyway, back to baby wipes. All-natural Eco Soft Baby Wipes – unscented, in a cutesy resealable wrapping with handwritten messages and black and white baby photos. Looks as trendy-green as you can get. After a closer look at the ingredient list (and we are well over half-pack) I went berserk.

            Natural? Eco-friendly? You wish!

            These “award-winning” baby wipes have a strong irritant, purebred petrochemical and a potentially poisonous neurotoxin benzyl alcohol as their third ingredient, right after water and glycerin. Here’s some information you may find useful:

            MSDA Safety Data Sheet for Benzyl Alcohol: “Toxicology: Harmful if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Severe irritant for eyes, skin and respiratory system.”

            CancerWeb (UK): “Benzyl alcohol: a colourless liquid with a sharp burning taste and slight odour. It is used as a local anaesthetic and to reduce pain associated with lidocaine injection. Also, it is used in the manufacture of other benzyl compounds, as a pharmaceutic aid, and in perfumery and flavoring. Pharmacological action: anaesthetics, local, pharmaceutic aid. (12 Dec 1998)”

            Benzyl alcohol has been proven to be toxic in a number of well-designed studies. Its use as a preservative and an antiseptic has been halted since the 1980s when sixteen premature infants died of acute toxic poisoning with benzyl alcohol, which was contained in an antibacterial solution used to flush catheters and other medical equipment. Here’s what a Pubmed abstract says:

            “Benzyl alcohol is used as a bacteriostatic preservative in parenteral (IV) medications. Benzyl alcohol is also known for its toxic effects including respiratory failure, vasodilation, hypotension, convulsions, and paralysis. Sixteen Neonatal deaths have been associated with the use of benzyl alcohol as a preservative in saline flush solutions… FDA has recommended that intravascular flush solutions containing benzyl alcohol not be used for newborns and that diluents with this preservative not be used as medications for these infants… Preservative free solutions are now being used for the infant population.”

            Source: “Neonatal Deaths Associated With Use of Benzyl Alcohol — United States”. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 11 Jun 1982. 31 (22): 290-1.

            Why would my child need a local anesthetic in her baby wipes? Why would an eco-conscious company use a proven toxin in award-winning baby products? Benzyl alcohol is listed the third among the ingredients, which means that it’s used in high concentrations.

            As a green mama of a “99.9 certified organic” baby girl, I noticed that my green princess developed a persistent irritation in her bottom area. This happened almost immediately after we started using Eco Soft Baby Wipes. The rash was bright red in color, the area was swollen and clearly painful, and the irritation did not seem to respond to treatment with zinc-oxide-based diaper creams and diaper rash creams. My daughter has not yet tasted a non-organic product in her life, and the fact that she encountered the toxic chemical through a “natural” baby product disturbs me most.

            As an author and an eco-conscious parent, I have done a lot of research on this subject. I know that benzyl alcohol naturally is contained as an aromatic compound in several plants, but in baby wipes it’s synthetic (not of plant origin), functioning as an antibacterial solution, not a fragrance (wipes are labeled fragrance-free).

            I wrote a letter to Naty S.A., the Swedish manufacturer of these baby wipes, telling them that I was very frightened, frustrated and upset by my discovery. So far, they responded with a canned letter saying that they plan to reformulate their products sometimes soon. What a cynicism!

            Needless to say, I will never use any of these baby wipes again, and I will do my best to inform fellow mamas about the dangerous ingredient used in Eco Soft wipes. Shame, really, because the diapers are really good. (Although now I am secretly thinking about switching to Tushies or Seventh Generation, but then I will need to take a regular trip to The Whole Foods in Kensington). We’ll see.  For now, I will pray to God that the damage done to my baby won’t spread further than dermatitis.

            Green solution:  ALWAYS CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST. THERE’S NO WAY AROUND IT. If there’s something you won’t eat, don’t put it on your baby’s skin. And yes, please go ahead and check your baby wipes’ ingredients NOW!