Contrary to product labels, the Wet Ones brand of hand wipes cannot kill “99.99%” of germs as represented and may actually irritate skin, a proposed class action lawsuit says.
The 28-page complaint alleges in particular that Wet Ones makers Edgewell Personal Care Company, Edgewell Personal Care Brands LLC and Edgewell Personal Care, LLC have falsely and misleadingly represented that the hand wipes are effective against 99.99 percent of organisms that cause disease, as well as hypoallergenic and tough on dirt and germs while remaining gentle on skin.
The complaint claims Wet Ones are ineffective at killing strains of norovirus, poliovirus, polyomavirus, human papillomavirus (HPV), picornavirus and double-membraned gram-negative bacteria, including the microbes responsible for COVID-19.
Consumers would not have bought the product had they known Wet Ones were ineffective, and that the product’s foremost active and third-most prevalent inactive ingredients are known skin irritants, the plaintiff, a San Diego resident, contests.
According to the lawsuit, the active ingredient in Wet Ones wipes, benzalkonium chloride (BAC), is not only ineffective against non-enveloped viruses, certain gram negative bacteria and spores but is an “established” skin irritant found to cause contact dermatitis. A significant issue, the case says, is the product’s directions for use, which instruct a consumer to “apply to hands” and “allow skin to dry without wiping.”
The suit argues that because BAC is “slow to act,” meaning the compound must generally remain on hands for more time than soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer in order to “kill germs,” the directions to use Wet Ones do not ensure the ingredient will remain on hands long enough to denature certain microbes. Per the case, Wet Ones’ effectiveness may be further compromised if used on dirty, greasy or grimy hands.
Moreover, the product’s third-most prevalent inactive ingredient, phenoxyethanol, is a “recognized allergen and toxin” that the FDA has cautioned can depress the central nervous system in infants, the lawsuit says. Similarly, a French medical agency has urged consumers not to use wipes containing phenoxyethanol on children younger than three years old due to concerns related to reproductive and developmental toxicity, according to the complaint.
“The Product directions, however, include use instructions for children 2 years and older,” the suit relays.
Highlighted in the complaint is the fact that Wet Ones is not listed on the American Chemistry Council’s Center for Biocide Chemistries list of products approved for fighting COVID-19. According to the case, Wet Ones are “less effective” at “killing” coronavirus than other disinfectants given their active ingredient.
“According to a scripps.org webpage addressing use of hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘[i]f benzalkonium chloride is listed as an active ingredient, the sanitizer is probably alcohol-free, or does not include a high enough percentage of alcohol to ward off the COVID-19 virus,’” the lawsuit reads.
Tackling the defendants’ representations of Wet Ones wipes as hypoallergenic and gentle, the lawsuit alleges the products contain a number of known allergens, including BAC, that are associated with contact dermatitis. According to the suit, BAC has also been found to cause multiple other adverse health effects, including the triggering of asthma and respiratory sensitization.
In all, the complaint charges consumers bought Wet Ones wipes to their detriment, and relied on the defendants’ representations in purchasing the product. Consumers would not have bought Wet Ones, or would have bought the product on different terms, had they known the truth, the case claims.
The lawsuit, which echoes complaints filed against the makers of Purell, Germ-X, and other widely usedhand sanitizer products, looks to cover consumers in the United States, as well as a California-only subclass, who bought the defendants’ Wet Ones wipes within the relevant statute of limitations period.
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