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Ministry tightens controls on wet-wipe chemicals

Local wet-wipe producers will be banned from using certain chemicals in their products ― including xylene, a chemical often used to make certain liquids dry slowly ― South Korea’s health authorities announced Thursday.

Wet-wipes, moistened tissues often used for cleaning purposes, such as personal hygiene, have been categorized as industrial products by the Korean government. Starting from July, they will be officially classed as cosmetic products and will be regulated by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.

All cosmetic products in Korea are banned from containing xylene and optical brighteners. The same regulations will apply to wet-wipes.

Foreign-made wet-wipe products containing the two chemicals will also be banned from being imported and sold, the ministry added.

Optical brighteners are commonly added to laundry detergents to replace whitening agents removed during washing to make clothes appear cleaner. Meanwhile, xylene is colorless, sweet-smelling and highly flammable and is often used by art conservators and the printing and leather industries.

Those with sensitive skin can experience irritation and develop skin rashes from both optical brighteners and xylene. Some research has shown that overexposure to optical brighteners may cause cancer.

However, not all wet-wipes will be banned from containing the chemicals.

“Wet-wipes produced for the sole purposes of cleaning corpses and for use in restaurants to clean hands will be categorized as public hygiene products instead of cosmetics, and therefore will be exempt from the ban of the two chemicals,” said an official from the drug ministry.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)
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