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Are Those Baby Wipes Really Natural?

Photograph by Twenty20

Moms just want what's best for their kids, so they don't often mind shelling out a few extra bucks to buy more natural products to use on their babies. And there's no shortage of products available touting the "natural" or "all-natural" label on the packaging.

But Brittany Sebastian, a San Diego mom who bought a package of Huggies Natural Care Wipes at Target last year, is upset and suing Kimberly-Clark, the company that makes the product, for unlawful business practices and acts, deceptive advertising, and other claims, as part of a class-action lawsuit. The packaging says the wipes are natural, gentle and hypoallergenic but Sebastian says that's not true, and the packaging is deceiving to consumers.

The Natural Care wipes contain an ingredient called phenoxyethanol, which is a preservative that keeps the wipes fresh. In France, regulators have recommended that parents not use wipes containing this chemical on babies and toddlers—at least until age 3—because of concerns related to "reproductive and developmental toxicity." And in the U.S., the FDA has previously issued warnings about phenoxyethanol, saying it can cause vomiting and diarrhea in infants.

But the lawsuit says the chemical can actually lead to skin irritation and is poisonous if swallowed. "Repeated, long-term exposure has been has been linked to organ damage, according to the court filing," as reported by CBS News.

This ingredient has been around for a long time, and there are multiple other brands that list phenoxyethanol as an ingredient, including the Honest Co., Kirkland Signature Baby Wipes (Costco-brand) and others. The preservative is also used in some cosmetics and personal care products such as body wash, hand cream and lotions, hand sanitizer and even ultrasound gel, to name a few. The Honest Co. has said they use "very low concentrations" of the preservative, and that the studies that have found negative health impacts are "based on full-strength or high-dose exposures."

In the 22-page federal lawsuit, an attorney for Brittany Sebastian said consumers have grown wary of the effects of chemicals and synthetic ingredients in their personal care products. "Consumers, including [the] plaintiff are willing to pay and have paid, a premium for products advertised, marketed and labeled as ‘natural’ over products containing nonnatural, synthetic ingredients,” the lawsuit said. Simply put: People want to know what's in the products they're using, especially when they pay more money to buy products with fewer chemicals or synthetic ingredients.

Although Sebastian is seeking damages with the lawsuit, Kimberly-Clark spokesperson Terry Balluck told CBS News that the lawsuit doesn't show any evidence of injury to a consumer and does not mention "a single safety event" of a child being harmed by the product.

“Nothing is more important to Huggies than the safety and well-being of those families that use our products," Balluck wrote in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "We stand behind our claims that Huggies Natural Care baby wipes are safe, having passed rigorous internal and independent safety evaluations that support our confidence in the quality and safety of this product."

Still, hell hath no fury like a mama scorned when she's trying to buy natural products for her baby, and paying a pretty penny to do so. Always read the ingredients!

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