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Mommy Bloggers Take Aim At New Diapers

by Alexander H. Tullo
June 14, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 24

Summer fun:
Credit: Alex Tullo/C&EN
C&EN toddler in Dry Max diaper shows no signs of diaper rash and no interest in staying dry.
Credit: Alex Tullo/C&EN
C&EN toddler in Dry Max diaper shows no signs of diaper rash and no interest in staying dry.

A new product from Pampers has gotten parents’ diapers in a bunch.

Earlier this year, Procter & Gamble unveiled the next generation of its Pampers brand, which incorporates the firm’s DRY MAX TECHNOLOGY. The new design, in P&G’s words, eliminates “the bulky fluff material in the storage core.” Although the company wouldn’t say so specifically, this probably means that P&G eliminated the wood pulp in the storage pad and is relying more heavily on superabsorbent polymers (SAP) such as sodium polyacrylate. These polymers can carry five times more water than the pulp can.

The new diapers are 20% thinner than the old Pampers, making them more beneficial for the environment, the company says. The Dry Max diapers offer 12% reduction in solid waste and an 8% decrease in energy consumption from manufacturing through distribution. The technology also allows P&G to cram more diapers onto supermarket shelves.

But many parents are seeing red. They say the new Pampers are causing diaper rash and blisters. Some have been moved enough to write strongly worded complaints on the social-networking site Facebook. “My 15-month-old son never had a diaper rash, and almost as soon as we bought our first Dry Max box, the rash started,” one mom says. “His bottom was beet red and covered with red bumps.” Other moms are even more adamant. “Diaper rash is an understatement,” one says. “This is a chemical burn!”

And P&G is facing a firestorm from “mommy bloggers,” a slice of blogosphere writers who devote themselves to nitpicking new products for babies. In a May 19 post, one blog, “Z Recommends,” dissected the new Pampers side by side with the old ones to shed some light on possible culprits behind the rashes. The blog fingered the missing mesh liner that covered the super­ab­sorb­ent pad, new fragrances, and possibly a new hot-melt adhesive used to bind the pad onto the diaper backing. It also speculated that P&G polymerized acrylic acid directly onto the diaper to make the SAP instead of fixing SAP to the diaper with an adhesive. Residual acrylic acid could therefore be causing the rashes, the blog opined.

The law firm Keller Rohrback has filed a lawsuit against P&G in a federal court in Ohio. In their complaint, the firm’s lawyers hypothesize that wood pulp being completely removed from the diaper padding leaves the SAPs “nearly in direct contact with babies’ and children’s extremely sensitive and delicate bottoms.”

Ian Davenport, a consultant with Davenport International and an SAP industry veteran, is skeptical that the new diapers are causing the rashes. “There would have to be a new chemical in there,” he says. “It is unlikely it would be something untested and in direct contact with the skin ­regularly.”

P&G says the pads and the adhesives incorporate the same materials the firm has always used. And the company adds that it is not polymerizing acrylic acid on the diapers. P&G has also suggested that there is a false correlation between the rashes and the diapers. At any given time, it says, 2.5 million babies have diaper rash, and 10% of those cases are severe.

P&G spokesman Bryan McCleary says the company sold billions of Dry Max diapers before the official product launch in March. That month, the company changed its packaging. Incidentally, it was also the month when there was a big jump in the number of complaints.

To settle the matter, I did what any enterprising reporter would do: volunteered my own toddler, Bárbara, to experiment with the new diapers. She is a finicky little tyke, turning away macaroni and cheese that isn’t up to her exacting specifications. If something was amiss, Bárbara would let my wife and me know. She wore the Dry Max diapers for more than a dozen changes, offered no complaints, and showed no signs of rash.


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