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Disposable Wipes

Disposable wipes are made for baby care, hand washing, feminine and other personal cleansing, removing makeup, and applying products such as deodorants and sunless tanners, among other uses.  Many wipes, but not all, are regulated as cosmetics.

While these products are convenient, consumers need to know what’s in them, how to use them safely, and how to report problems:

Who Regulates Wipes, and How?

This depends on their intended use:

  • Wipes intended for cleansing or moisturizing the skin, such as those for baby care, hand washing, makeup removal, washing the body when bathing is not practical, or feminine or other personal cleansing, are regulated as cosmetics. So are wipes intended for applying products such as sunless tanners or deodorants.

    The law doesn’t require cosmetic products or ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market.

    But cosmetics must be safe when people use them as directed on the label, or in the customary or usual way. To learn more, see “FDA Authority Over Cosmetics.”

  • Wipes intended for a therapeutic purpose, such as killing germs on the skin, or treating acne, diaper rash, or other skin conditions, are drugs under the law. Drugs must meet requirements for FDA approval for safety and effectiveness before they go on the market. Drugs are regulated by FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
  • Wipes intended to control germs on inanimate surfaces (disinfect or sanitize) and wipes containing  insect repellents are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Wipes intended for cleansing objects in our homes, at work, the gym, and in public places are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The information below is about wipes that are regulated as cosmetics:

What’s in a Wipe?

Cleansing wipes are made of materials such as polyester, polypropylene, cotton, wood pulp, or rayon fibers formed into sheets. They may be packaged individually, or in small or bulk packaging. They are moistened with water and other ingredients, such as cleansing and moisturizing agents that help them work. They may contain other ingredients, such as preservatives to prevent the growth of bacteria and molds.

Wipes are sometimes labeled as scented, unscented, or fragrance-free. FDA doesn’t have regulations governing the use of these terms. But cosmetic labeling is required to be truthful and not misleading.

Typically, the word “unscented” on a cosmetic label means that the product doesn’t have a noticeable scent. But it may actually contain “masking” fragrance ingredients to hide the smell of ingredients whose scent may be unpleasant.

However, because the term “fragrance” refers to specific kinds of ingredients, cosmetics labeled as “fragrance free” should not contain any added fragrance ingredients. It’s possible that a product labeled as “fragrance free” may have a noticeable scent, either pleasant or unpleasant, resulting from other ingredients.

If a product contains fragrance ingredients, the list of ingredients must say so. Fragrance ingredients may be identified by name or simply as “fragrance.” To learn more, see “Fragrances in Cosmetics.”

Using Wipes Safely: Tips for Consumers

How consumers use and store wipes can affect their safety. Here are some safety tips:

  • Use wipes only on unbroken, intact skin.
  • Use wipes only for their intended use, following all directions on the label. For example, there may be a warning not to use the wipes on broken or irritated skin or the directions may recommend rinsing the skin after use.
  • Make sure to let skin dry thoroughly after using wipes.
  • Keep containers tightly closed to keep wipes from drying out.
  • Discard used wipes immediately to prevent cross contamination, and as directed on the label. Some, but not all, are labeled as flushable.
  • As with all cosmetics, store wipes properly. If they are exposed to temperature extremes, such as in a hot or cold car, they may dry out, or the temperature extremes can cause changes in the ingredients. For example, the preservatives that protect against bacteria and mold may break down and not be able to do their job. Also, bacteria and mold may grow faster in a warm place.
  • If you have sensitive skin or certain allergies, check the list of ingredients on the label before using wipes. FDA requires this list for all cosmetics marketed on a retail basis to consumers. The list can help you to identify ingredients you want to avoid. Remember that not all people react to the same things. For example, some parents have suffered reactions to baby wipes that didn’t bother their babies.
  • Stay informed. When FDA becomes aware of a health problem, we alert the public. For example, there have been recalls of some wipes that were contaminated with bacteria or mold. You can keep up with cosmetic safety information by checking our “What’s New” page, subscribing to email updates or following FDA cosmetics news on Twitter disclaimer icon.  

Reporting a Problem

If you observe a rash, such as raised red bumps, either smooth or crusty, redness, irritation, or burning of the skin in the area(s) where wipes contact the skin, stop using the wipes and contact your healthcare provider right away.

Also, please report the problem to FDA. The law doesn’t require cosmetic companies to share their safety information, including complaints, with FDA. Your report helps FDA determine whether or not we need to take action to protect public health. Even if all you notice is an “off” color or a bad smell, FDA wants to know.

You can report a problem with a cosmetic in either of these two ways:

To learn more, see “Adverse Event Reporting: How to Report a Cosmetic-related Problem to FDA.”

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