THE use of baby wipes and soaps may promote childhood food allergies by disrupting the natural protective barrier of the skin, researchers say.
A study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, suggests a mix of environmental and genetic factors work together to trigger a food allergy.
These factors include the use of infant cleansing wipes that leave soap on the skin, skin exposure to household dust and food, and genetics that alter skin absorbency.
“This is a recipe for developing food allergy,” said the lead author of the study, Joan Cook-Mills, a professor of allergy-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Parents of infants should limit the use of baby wipes and remember to wash their hands regularly, particularly after handling food, Prof Cook-Mills said.
“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,” she said.
Food allergies – particularly allergies to peanuts and tree nuts – are a growing problem with no known cause.
In Australia, food allergy occurs in around one-in-20 children.
Allergic disease epidemiologist, Dr Adrian Lowe at the University of Melbourne said there was a growing body of evidence that shows the skin has an important role to play in the development of food allergy.
Dr Lowe said it made sense that baby wipes might be part of the equation. Through disrupting the top skin layer – which is made of lipids (fats) – allergens have a better opportunity to enter the body, he explained.
“By cleaning our babies with soaps in the bathwater or wipes we may actually be helping that allergen ingress through the skin which helps induce the sensitisation and allergy,” he said.
However he noted more studies on humans are required.
It’s estimated up to 35 per cent of children with food allergies also have atopic dermatitis.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute are currently investigating whether the use of a special cream on a babies skin can prevent food allergy.
“So we’re conducting a randomised control trial where we are getting parents to apply a particular cream from very early in life through to six months of age,” Dr Lowe said.
“We’re trying to prevent the children from developing eczema and hopefully this will also prevent them from developing food allergy as well.”